Garmin fenix 3 Review

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Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3

Garmin fenix 3

UPDATE: You can check out my comparison of the Garmin fenix 3 and Suunto Ambit3 Peak here.

Hello and welcome.

This is a review for the Garmin fenix 3 GPS Watch. I used the fenix 3 during The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) 50 miler in April 2015 and have had the watch for over 3 months (at the time of this review; although I wasn’t running for 1 month of that). The fenix 3 is the GPS watch I use for every run.

In this review (and on this blog), I’ll simply be writing what I like and what I don’t like. I’ll conclude each review by answering a simple question—would I recommend this to a friend.

So without wasting any more time, let’s get started.

For the Garmin fenix 3 GPS watch:

What I like

(1) Battery life
Extended battery life is the primary reason I purchased the fenix 3 in the first place. I wanted something that would last for 24 hours or more in an active state. In over three months of usage, the battery life has been excellent so far.

For the The North Face 50 Miler, I still had just under 50% of battery power remaining after 9 hours on the course. And this was using the one second recording setting in the GPS training mode. There is another mode called “Ultratrac” which reduces the recording but should provide even greater battery life. The website claims it will last up to 50 hours.

(2) GPS acquisition time and accuracy
In most case the GPS fix time has been blazingly fast—a couple seconds or less. I gave my old Garmin 610 to my wife and when we go running, the fenix 3 always locates the satellites before the 610, which was better than her old Garmin 110. (This is getting worse.  See update below)

[UPDATE 8/1/2015] Since my original post, I thought I would add a little more about the GPS accuracy of the fenix 3. Overall, I’ve found the accuracy of the fenix 3 to be very solid. During the TNFEC 50 mile race, the watch registered 49.3 miles at the end, which I think is very good for 50 miles, especially on a course with many sharp turns.  The TNFEC 50 mile Washington DC course looped three times in Great Falls Park and backtracked to Algonkian Regional Park along the Potomac Heritage Trail. If you look at my GPS data on Strava, the tracks are very tight on the multiple loops and the backtracks.  In fact, I haven’t seen anything perform better. (You may need to follow me on Strava to see the complete GPS tracks on the map.  Otherwise, it looks like the track detail is limited so it may appear not as accurate).

I know some people have had trouble with GPS accuracy on the fenix 3. I don’t know if this is the solution or not, but I disabled the GLONASS feature to potentially reduce battery usage.  GLONASS is Russia’s version of GPS. So far, I haven’t seen any real reason to enable it. If you have the fenix 3 and are having issues with accuracy, disabling GLONASS might be something to try. [END UPDATE]

[UPDATE 10/15/2015] Alright, this is getting frustrating.  Over the past month, the fenix 3 has suddenly had trouble acquiring satellites.  It gets to about 95% and then just stops.  I’ve searched the Garmin forums and others appear to be having the same issue.  I’ve found that if I hit start, to start activity recording, it will acquire satellites after a few seconds.  I can then hit stop and discard that activity.  For some reason, this seems to force it to acquire the GPS fix.  This seems like a software bug, but it is frustrating and unacceptable if it is not fixed.  I put in a support request with Garmin.  I’ll update this review when I get more details.  I did purchase this from REI and I am still within the 1 year return window.  Maybe the Suunto Ambit 4 will be released soon… [END UPDATE]

[UPDATE 10/25/2015] Okay. The issue seems to have been resolved.  I think the problem was that there was a GPS firmware update that wasn’t updating via wifi, which is strange because other software updates were being applied.  It is possible that the software and GPS firmware became out of sync or something.  This is just me guessing since it worked for a while, software updates were being applied, the GPS firmware update wasn’t being applied, and then it stopped working.  However, when I connected the watch to the computer via USB and updated via Garmin Express, the GPS firmware update was applied.  Since then, the fenix 3 has started acquiring satellites at rapid speeds again.  Typically it takes just 2-3 seconds, no matter where I am.  I’m not sure why that update wasn’t applied via wifi.  Maybe it had something to do with the file size or something.  Regardless, the fenix 3 is performing excellent again.  [END UPDATE].

(3) Watch band
While I liked the Garmin 610, the watch band on the had design issues. You could tell when you put it on that you were stressing the point where the band meets the watch. The 610 band eventually broke and I replaced it with a quick release strap. I’ve had no such issues on the fenix 3. You can tell by looking that the band design is much better. See below how the band connects to the watch. It is very flexible and great for different wrist sizes. It seems Garmin is using a similar design on most of their watches now.

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Watch Band

Garmin fenix 3 Watch Band

(4) Four data fields on one screen
The Garmin 610 had this feature and I loved it. I don’t think I would have gotten the fenix 3 if it didn’t have this ability. The extra nice thing about the fenix 3 is that you can configure how you want the four data fields to be oriented. See the pics below.

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Four data fields - Option 1

Garmin fenix 3 – Four Data Fields – Option 1

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 review | Four Data Fields Option 2

Garmin fenix 3 – Four Data Fields – Option 2

(5) Automatic WiFi upload
I love no longer having to plug the watch up to the computer to upload my run data. When I walk into the house, it uploads automatically when connected to WiFi. I’ve found that if the battery is less than 30% or 40%, it won’t connect to WiFi and automatically upload, but you can go into WiFi settings on the watch itself and tell it to connect to WiFi and upload the data.

(6) Charger
This may seem minor, but having to deal with the terrible Garmin 110 charger, I was glad they didn’t screw this up on the fenix 3. The charger connects securely to the watch. No issues.

Phil The Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Charger

Garmin fenix 3 Charger

(6) Tons of features
Overall, the watch has tons of features, many I have never used or have only played with briefly. I’ve tested connecting it via Bluetooth to my phone and was able to see notifications such as text messages and email on the watch. But when I’m running, those are the last things I want to see so I disabled this. I also wanted to maximize battery life while running and figured having Bluetooth enabled wouldn’t help.

The watch also has a compass, altimeter, barometer. If you are running up a hill, you can configure the watch to automatically change what data is displayed in case you wanted to see the altitude or a different set of data.

The watch also had the ability to display your running cadence. I’ve tested this by simply counting my steps and it appears fairly accurate. This is a useful feature if you are trying to monitor and improve your cadence.

Overall, the watch has tons of features and is highly customizable.

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3 Compass

Garmin fenix 3 Compass

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3 Altimeter

Garmin fenix 3 Altimeter

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3 Temp

Garmin fenix 3 Temperature

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3 Barometer

Garmin fenix 3 Barometer

Phil the Runner | Garmin fenix 3 Review | Garmin fenix 3 Modes

Garmin fenix 3 Modes

What I don’t like

(1) Size and weight
This was my biggest concern with the watch and my biggest hesitation in getting it. It is larger than most standard running watches. Garmin reports that it weighs 82g. For comparison, the Garmin 110 is reported to weigh 52g. The fenix 3 did feel a bit large when I first put it on, but after a couple months of wearing it, I don’t notice it anymore. So while it is still large and heavy compared to other GPS watches, it isn’t a big issue in my opinion.

(2) Price
It’s expensive. No question there. But it is comparable to other watches with similar features.

Would I recommend this to a friend?

Absolutely. [UPDATE: 10/15/2015]: Tentatively recommend.  The new GPS acquisition issues above are frustrating.  My recommendation is trending downward.  I’ll update this post once I find out more. [END UPDATE]

[UPDATE 10/25/2015]: Yes, recommended. Now that the GPS acquisition issue mentioned above has been resolved, the watch is back to being great.  [END UPDATE]

In my experience, all Garmin GPS watches I’ve tried seem to have a quirk or two. The Forerunner 610 had band issues. The Forerunner 110 had charger issues. The Forerunner 405 had a bezel touch interface that was awful. It seems that when the Garmin people change a design, they usually don’t get it right the first time. I even hear bad things about the fenix 2.

So far, I haven’t found any such issue with the fenix 3. It is a well designed watch that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to accomplish.

If you don’t need the longer battery life and only plan to use the watch for running, you would probably be happy with the Garmin 220 or 620. However, if you want something to wear on 12-plus hour ultramarathons (outside the battery limit of most GPS watches), the fenix 3 is a great choice.

I am very happy with the watch so far and would definitely recommend it to a friend.

To purchase the Garmin fenix 3, consider following this link to Amazon. Purchases made through this link help support this site. Thanks!

As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know of any thoughts or questions below. Thanks for reading.

Disclosure 1: I was not paid or compensated to write this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I do participate in the Amazon Affiliate program and this page includes affiliate links to Amazon.  For further details, refer to my privacy policy.

Disclosure 2: The fenix 3 was an early birthday present from my wife, purchased with her own money. However, even this did not influence my review. I love the present, honey!


14 thoughts on “Garmin fenix 3 Review

  1. Travis

    Thanks for the review. I’m in the market for a new Garmin after my last one lost a button and the humidity shorted something out. It was saying I was running 5-second miles! Now I share my wife’s Garmin, but occasionally we want to run at the same time (at much different speeds).

    Reply
    1. Phil Post author

      Thanks for the comment Travis. Definitely check out the fenix 3 if you are looking for something with a lot of battery power and its within your budget.

      Reply
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  3. Mike

    Nice review. I have a small question. It should be possible to use a predefined track while running. Do you have any experience with it? I would like to use it for running in unknown areas and forest runs.

    Reply
    1. Phil Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. Yes, you can use Garmin Connect to create a course and then load it onto the fenix 3. Then you can use the fenix 3 navigate the course. I haven’t tried this feature yet, so I can’t comment on how it works. I will give it a try and post an update on the review.

      In addition, as you run, you can also use the fenix 3 to save coordinates and route you back to the start. This is useful if you don’t necessarily want to pre-plan a course, but want to make sure you can find your way back.

      Reply
  4. Denny

    Phil, wonderful write up. I to just purchased the Fenix 3. I can’t seem to find where you set the diferent accuracies for the gps. Please help. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Phil Post author

      Hi Denny. Thanks for your comment. There are a few ways to answer your question so I’ll try to cover them all. There is the (1) GPS mode, (2) GLONASS setting, and (3) Data Recording setting. All three may impact what your GPS tracks look like after the activity.

      (1) First, the GPS mode. There are basically only two different modes for the GPS (or 3 if you count “Off”): (1) Normal On mode and (2) UltraTrac mode. The setting for GPS mode is inside each specific activity or “App” (as Garmin now calls them). That way, you can have different activities set to different modes. For example, to change the “Run App” setting, you can go to Settings -> Apps -> Run -> GPS. Under GPS, you will see the options for “Off”, “On”, and “UltraTrac”. “On” is 1 second GPS updates. “UltraTrac” reduces the update rate so you can save battery. In UltraTrac mode, I believe it is about 15 seconds on and 45 seconds off. This is different than other watches that might have 1, 5, or 60 second update rates.

      (2) Second regarding GLONASS. That setting can be changed under Settings -> System -> GLONASS. It can be set to “On” or “Off”. I believe GLONASS is basically the Russian version of GPS. Supposedly it can increase accuracy, but I haven’t noticed a big difference either way.

      (3) Lastly, don’t forget about the Data Recording setting. This isn’t related to GPS accuracy, but it can impact what your tracks look like if you’re reviewing them after the activity. The Data Recording setting is located under Settings -> System -> Data Recording. The options are “Every Second” or “Smart”. If you use the “Smart” setting, the GPS is still getting updates based on the mode above, but the watch is only recording a data-point every 5 seconds, so you may see some cut corners on your tracks when you review them later.

      Hope this helps. Thanks again for your comment.
      Phil

      Reply
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  9. Dave

    I’ve been trying to research how the Fenix 3 has been performing after almost 2 years of updates. Has it gotten any better or is it still experiencing less-than-ambit3 performance levels. If I’m going to pay top of the line money, I want the best of the best. Thanks for such an honest and in depth review.

    Reply
    1. Phil Post author

      Hi David. Thanks for the comment. I’ve been using the fenix 3 and am 100% satisfied with its performance. There was one time it lost GPS during the JFK 50, but since then it’s maintained GPS signal 100% of the time. In addition, it continues to lock on GPS signal very quickly. I’ve found that if you sync via WiFi, it doesn’t update the GPS cache. But since I’ve started syncing via Bluetooth to my phone, it continues to lock on GPS signal in a few seconds. The only real advantage I see of the Ambit3 is battery performance. But I’ve recharged the fenix 3 a couple times during ultra races lasting longer than 16 hours using a portable GPS charger and haven’t had any issues. It is very easy to recharge while active. If you don’t run longer than 16 hours, then it probably doesn’t matter. But either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with either choice. Let me know if you have further questions. Thanks again for our comment!

      Reply
  10. Sancho

    I have the Garmin Fenix 3 HR and I would absolutely not recommend it. It is mostly overpriced garbage. The Fenix 3 HR often has problems acquiring a GPS signal. I have been keeping track and in January alone, I have spent over 2 hours waiting for the watch to acquire a signal. I am aware of and sometimes use the trick of starting a run prior to the GPS signal being acquired and then stopping the run, discarding it and then starting it again. This works about 50% of the time. For a watch that’s over $500, one should never have to do this.

    The GPS signal issues are really only part of the problem. I have to turn off and reboot the watch before almost every run in order to get the heart rate monitor to work. It simply doesn’t pick up my heart rate unless I reboot it. This isn’t the end of the world but imagine having to reboot your computer almost every time you wanted to use it instead of simply signing in. Would you keep your iphone if you had to that almost every time you wanted to use it?

    Additionally, the battery life on the watch is nothing near what they claim. I started a 50 mile race with the battery at 100% and settings at 30% for backlight, auto off, HR monitor on, GPS tracking every 60 seconds and GLONASS off. It was down to 10% only 8 hours into the race and almost shut off on me. Nothing even close to 24 hours like they claim is possible while using the HR monitor. I then proceeded to stop my activity and adjust the settings to no HR, monitor screen 10% and was able to get it to last two more hours until I completed the race. Now to some people this may not be a big deal, but I wasn’t thrilled to be fucking around with the settings of my $600 watch 42 miles and 8 hours into a race when I still had 2,000 more vert to climb (4,000 more according to my watch but I won’t get into the inaccuracies of the vertical tracking). It’s absolutely unacceptable.

    I had the Fenix 2 and still have a Forerunner 225 and neither of them had the problems I consistently have with the Fenix 3 HR. I absolutely discourage people from wasting money on the Garmin Fenix 3. It’s worth $250 tops. $350 if it actually worked. What’s ironic is the Forerunner 225 has no problem picking up a GPS signal immediately, every time. I’m not even going to try figuring out why. I finally learned the hard way why every ultra runner I know and am aware of uses other brands (actually almost everyone uses Suunto)

    The bottom line is the Fenix 3 HR is absolute trash for an Ultra runner. I’m listing mine on ebay tonight and giving the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak a try.

    Reply

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