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Gear Review: Garmin Fenix 6

A skier wearing the Garmin Fenix 6 GPS watch

Garmin watches feature some of the most advanced apps and monitors a runner can find in a GPS smart watch, so it’s no surprise we found everything we could want in the new Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire.

The Fenix 6 replaces the outgoing Fenix 5 lineup in Garmin’s stable of watches, and it improves on its predecessor in nearly every way. A larger display, bigger battery (including additional options to increase battery life) and new tracking features make the Fenix 6 the perfect training partner for easy runs around the neighborhood and multi-day adventures into the backcountry.

Garmin sent a test model to Fleet Feet to let us try out all the new features packed into the Fenix 6. After almost a month of testing, here’s what we thought of Garmin’s latest and greatest GPS watch.

The Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire GPS watch

Fenix 6 Fit and Materials

The Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire is marketed as a premium multi-sport watch, and it’s built to back that up.

The first thing our tester noticed about the Fenix 6 is its weight. Right out of the box, the watch has a hefty feel. Garmin lists the weight at 83 grams, which is a few grams lighter than the Fenix 5, but you’ll still definitely notice the watch on your wrist when you first put it on. But our tester didn’t have a problem with the weight after a few hours of wearing it.

“It’s a big watch, but I didn’t mind the weight,” he says. “It feels like a burly watch that can handle almost anything.”

That weight comes from bomber components: A stainless steel bezel and Sapphire crystal lens. And, if it does feel too big, there’s a smaller, 42 mm version of the watch that drops the weight to 61 grams.

Garmin says the new 1.3-inch display on the mid-sized Fenix 6 is 17 percent larger than the previous model, and the 1.4-inch display on the Fenix 6X is 36 percent bigger than the last one.

One of the best parts about the new Fenix 6 is what holds that big face onto your wrist: the interchangeable strap.

The quick-swap straps make it easy to change the look of the watch at any time. Garmin designed the straps with a small slider that unlocks it from the watch. It’s easy to operate with a thumbnail, and it doesn’t require any tools.

Garmin packaged the sample watch with two bands: one made of patterned silicone and one made from nylon. The two silicone bands were supple and easy to adjust, even while running. But the nylon band was stiffer and more difficult to find the right fit. It might break in after a few wears, but our tester used the silicone one for the majority of testing.

Along with the silicone and nylon, you can purchase a leather or titanium band—and swap them in easily—for a more dressed-up look.

The Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire displays the current weather

Fenix 6 Features

The Fenix 6 Sapphire is a top-of-the-line running watch with an arsenal of premium features.

A customizable watch face allows you to add the screens you want to see right away. The date, time, real-time heart rate, steps and plenty more are available right on the main screen.

But dig deeper into the settings and accompanying Garmin Connect app, and there’s even more to do.

Click down a screen on the watch, and the Fenix shows the current weather, sunrise and sunset times, compass and your VO2 max score. There’s also a training status estimate, which uses your workout history to suggest if you’re under-training, overdoing it or hitting the sweet spot.

The training status is based on your activity history, so its accuracy will increase over time as you log more workouts. But everyone recovers differently—you might find your body recovers quicker than the software’s estimate—so use the estimate as a general idea of your recovery until you find out what works for you.

It wouldn’t be a complete smartwatch without phone integration and notifications, though, so Garmin made it compatible with iPhones and Android devices. Pair it with your smartphone via Bluetooth, and you’ll be able to check your calendar and see your latest text messages right on the watch.

Again, all of the features are customizable, so you can set and see exactly what you want.

One of our favorite features on Garmin watches is daily goal setting. You can set goals for steps, calories burned, floors climbed and intensity minutes, and the watch alerts you when you’ve hit the goal. Don’t feel like setting them ahead of time? The Fenix determines some anyway based on your previous activity.

The Garmin Fenix 6 isn’t just for runners, though. The timepiece can also track:

  • Gym workouts, like strength training or rowing machines
  • Golf courses, including 41,000 pre-loaded courses around the world
  • Outdoor recreation, like hiking, climbing, mountain biking and skiing
  • Cycling, including road, indoor, mountain biking and triathlon
  • Swimming, both pool swimming and open water

To be suitable for swimming, Garmin made the Fenix 6 fully waterproof. It has a 10 ATM water rating, which means it can withstand water pressures equivalent to being 100 meters underwater. The rating makes the watch ideal for just about every water sport you can think of—swimming, diving, snorkeling—although it’s not meant for scuba diving or free driving.

Our tester says the Fenix connects to GPS as quickly as any other Garmin watch he’s tried. The inherent limitation of any GPS device is that it can be difficult to find a signal when it’s cloudy or you’re around tall buildings or trees. Even on cloudy days, though, our tester says the watch found a signal and it tracked his runs with no problems.

Garmin made the Fenix 6 capable of connecting to GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems (the US, Russian and European Union navigation satellite systems, respectively), which can track your workout and sync the watch’s time to keep it on track.

Fenix 6 Battery Life

A woman wearing the Garmin Fenix 6S Sapphire

All that software needs power to run. Luckily, the Fenix 6 backs up its suite of performance features with an impressive battery.

Garmin says the Fenix 6 holds a charge for up to 14 days in regular smartwatch mode, and you can squeeze more out of it by changing the battery settings. Here’s how long Garmin says the battery will last for each setting:

Fenix 6 Sapphire Setting

Battery Life

Smartwatch

Up to 14 days

GPS

Up to 36 hours

GPS + Music

Up to 10 hours

Max Battery GPS Mode

Up to 72 hours

Expedition GPS Activity

Up to 28 days

Battery Saver Watch Mode

Up to 48 days

Each watch setting changes the features that are active. Max Battery turns off the heart-rate monitor, disconnects smart notifications and phone syncing, disables maps, and silences music.

The battery-saving setting also switches the GPS to Garmin’s UltraTrac mode, which decreases how often the watch pings satellites—down to once every minute. UltraTrac is best used for long-distance running, like ultramarathons, when route detail isn’t as important as battery life.

Create custom battery settings to keep what you want while turning off things you don’t need. So, if you want heart rate but don’t need a map, you can alter the setting to dial in your preferences.

The Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire screen

For testing purposes, a Fleet Feet runner left the watch on regular smartwatch mode and switched it into GPS mode for workouts to simulate typical training. Starting with a full charge, our tester got almost three full weeks of battery life from the watch (without using music, maps or Pulse Ox).

“I was very impressed with the Fenix’s battery,” he says. “I kept expecting it to warn me about a low battery, but it just kept running and running.”

Obviously, using more features and running more miles will tax the battery more, leading to less time between charges. But with its customizable modes and more efficient settings, we’re confident the Fenix 6 Sapphire has a big enough battery for almost any adventure.

Garmin used to use a clip-style charger on many of its watches and other devices, but the Fenix 6 uses a plug-in USB charger that snaps securely into place in the back of the watch. The only downside to the plug-in charger is that you can’t lay the watch flat as it’s charging. But that didn’t have any effect on day-to-day use—it just made it a little trickier to set on a bed-side table while charging.

Conclusion

The Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire does everything we want from a GPS running watch, and it does it all in style.

We love the Fenix 6’s host of monitors and performance tracking features that will automatically upload our workout data to Garmin Connect or another running app, and it’s built from rugged materials that make the watch look good and stand up to the harshest weather you can find.

After testing the watch on a full charge, we were very impressed with the Fenix 6’s battery life that lasted nearly three weeks of regular training and use before running out. The big battery and ability to extend battery life by turning off different features means you’ll have enough juice for just about any adventure you can dream up.

Overall, the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire is a market-leading GPS smart watch that will give you all the data you need to train smarter than ever.

Still not convinced? Don’t sweat it. Fleet Feet's return policy means you can test drive your shoes and gear without risk. If you’re not happy with the way your gear performs, looks or fits, we’ll take it back within 60 days. Plus, you’ll get free return shipping on all fleetfeet.com orders. That's our Happy Fit Guarantee.

By Evan Matsumoto. Evan played many sports growing up but didn’t go pro in any of them. Now, he’s the digital copywriter for fleetfeet.com and editor for the Fleet Feet blog where he writes about different foam densities and engineered mesh uppers.

Garmin Watch Reviews