As an amateur triathlete, I have been using Garmin watches for the past 10 years now, and the latest model I had a chance to test is the Garmin Fenix 2. My addiction to the sport reached a new high last year, when I completed my first full Ironman, that’s 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles cycling, followed by 26.2 miles running (a full marathon).
Sure, people who train for and perform in such activities might be a little nuts, or better said, super-passionate. How else can you explain the amount of training I subjected my body to last year, and just to cap it off with a 13+ hours event? Anyhow, whatever your feeling about endurance athletes and events, one thing you can see plenty of there is passionate folks doing something that may not make sense to the rest of the world or might seem downright crazy to others… That passion, the sense of community that comes with being an Ironman triathlete is very much akin to one of my other passions: watch collecting.
While I could wax poetic about the sport, I will instead talk about the intersection of these two passions of mine, as I do a cursory review of a watch I got last year to help in my training: the Garmin Fenix 2. As I mentioned, I have been using Garmin watches and devices for sports activities for a while now. As I got seriously into triathlons, I pretty much bought all of their devices as they were released. Usually, I recycle older versions on Amazon or eBay, since they are usually about one year old and in excellent shape. I take good care of these devices since I swear by them. Actually, I once went on a training ride/run with both my cycling computer and watch battery almost empty (by mistake) and it was easily my worst day training last year. Once the batteries died, I felt lost not knowing how fast I was going, what my heart rate was, or my cadence and power output on the bike… I am a numbers junky and these devices are my constant dose fueling my energy to train and race.
The Garmin Fenix 2 is Garmin’s second version of what could be its most wearable sports watch. What I mean is that while some folks reading this blog would not be caught dead wearing a Timex Ironman watch (which, as a side note, happened to be President Bush’s watch while in office), I feel that the Garmin Fenix 2 would easily be the kind of watch that watch aficionados (such as us) would actually wear as a daily beater. The styling is reminiscent of some Casio ProTrek watches while having its own unique look. It is a big watch, coming in at 49 mm diameter, 19 mm high, and with lug-to-lug measurement just over 60 mm.
However, it is supremely lightweight at barely 85 grams (with strap), which makes it a watch I comfortably use for running, cycling, swimming, and even mountain biking (MTB); which is a sport that requires the perfect watch, otherwise, after a few minutes you feel like ripping the watch from your wrist as the constant shocks during MTBing will surely have the watch constantly hitting your wrist.
Furthermore, the Garmin Fenix 2 is a watch designed for outdoor activities. What I mean is that it’s the perfect watch for hiking. The multi-sports and GPS capabilities mean that you can use this for trail running, lake or ocean swimming, keeping track of distance, heart rate (not while swimming), and foot cadence (using Garmin’s HRM Run strap). It also offers important trail information like barometer, altitude, bearing, and temperature – all at the press of a button.
Starting and stopping activities is a couple clicks away. Once started, each activity comes preloaded with a series of customizable data pages that constantly, in real time, feed the data nerd like myself. Of course, this assumes you have already paired the Garmin Fenix 2 with the Garmin ANT+ HRM Run heart rate strap (for running, hiking) and with the bicycle cadence or power meter ANT+ sensors. All these are an extra $50 or $99 add-ons, except for the power meters, which tend to be in the $1000+ mark. Yup, being a data junky is expensive.
But with them, you get extra information that you collect during your activities and then can review ad nauseam after uploading to the free Garmin Connect Web site. For instance, when paired with the HRM Run heart rate strap, after doing a medium to long run (20 minutes or more), the device will give you an estimate of your VO2max for running which is widely agreed to be the best predictor of your capabilities as a runner. The Garmin Fenix 2 will then use that information to advise you of your recovery time as well as your predicted performance for various distances, e.g., 5km, 10km, half marathon, and full marathon.
When not used for its intended multi-sports purposes, the Garmin Fenix 2 makes for an excellent day-to-day watch, or at least in my case, a great watch when I go on training camps with my triathlete team. Its GPS capabilities transform it into an excellent “survivor” watch, though, unlike a Casio ProTrek, you need to be mindful of its current charge. While I have gone a few weeks on one charge when I left the watch in simple watch mode, when used for multi-sports activities, that is, connected to GPS signal, the battery will last you about 20 hours to maybe a full day.
Some other nice touches on this watch include the main dial, as you can see from the pictures above: it is a very stealthy but readable watch. The running seconds markers around the dial are a big part of that, as well as the inverse LCD markers (which cannot be reversed). Garmin sells a special Garmin Fenix 2 edition with the LCD markers in normal mode (i.e., white background with black markers). For night viewing, the regular Garmin Fenix 2 is a charm, with a nice red light that makes this watch super cool and even stealthier – almost like a Special Ops-style military watch. I am sure Garmin went for that look on purpose, since that must be part of the appeal and market segments targeted for this watch. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Garmin makes a variant of the Garmin Fenix 2 called the Tactix which is geared especially toward military personnel.
Finally, I would be chastised for not mentioning on this site that the Garmin Fenix 2 uses a proprietary strap design, which, while very comfortable, means that it is not a watch you can easily put on typical nato straps or one of the many aftermarket military inspired straps. Instead, Garmin sells a few variants of the Garmin Fenix 2 strap in limited colors (orange, black, and olive) in the same rubber that comes with the watch as default. There is also a black leather variant. They each will run you about $30 and are shipped with two screw drivers with the proprietary Garmin screw head, designed to help you easily change the strap. Why Garmin chose to make this aspect proprietary beats me, but I did buy the orange and leather variant, which I have enjoyed swapping to.
While not a perfect “survivor” watch, and neither the perfect “triathlon” watch nor the perfect “hiking” watch, the Garmin Fenix 2 is a good watch for all of these categories. For me, it’s the best multi-sports watch, intended for someone who is not into watches and who would actually use it as a daily beater. This is especially the case for the outdoors type, who hardly spend time in a board room or in formal encounters. For all others, like me, it’s part of my training gear, especially for trail runs, MTBing, and when meeting my triathlon team at training camps. garmin.com
Publishing update: while I stand by everything I wrote in this review (first drafted in November 2014), it’s worth mentioning upfront that Garmin has released early in 2015 the Fenix 3, which is an updated version that seems to address many of the shortcomings of the Fenix 2 and adding various features to make it an even better multi-sports watch. If I end up upgrading to the Fenix 3, I will make sure to review it here. I also have a Garmin 920xt which has many of the same features of the Fenix 3. I will likely review the 920xt first. However, all that said, please note that Garmin still sells the Fenix 2 and the price remains the same while the Fenix 3’s price starts at $100 more than the 2.
Model: Fenix 2
Price: $399 base model and $449 bundled with HR run strap
Size: 59 mm wide x 19 mm high (61mm lug to lug)
Weight: 85g on strap
Would reviewer personally wear it: yes
Friend we’d recommend it to first: The guy wanting an outdoors watch with multi-sports capabilities and not looking for the pure survival watch – that is, who is aware that they will need to recharge it.
Worst characteristic of watch: Saving activities seem to take way longer than with any of my other Garmin devices. Same goes for recalling the activities from history. Not sure if this is a bug and will be fixed with a firmware update, as I have had the watch for almost 9 months now and after at least two firmware updates, the problem still persists.
Best characteristic of watch: The rugged look and feel while remaining super lightweight. It’s a joy to wear during any physical activity (strenuous or not).