There was an inevitability that I would be tempted by the latest Garmin Fenix / Garmin Epix 2 release. I had been using the Fenix series from version 3, (before it even featured an optical heart rate sensor). Then, last June I venture into the realm of the Apple watch and for a whole six months I enjoyed all it had to offer.
The Apple Watch Series 6/7 is a stunning smart watch. GPS mapping appeared more accurate than my Fenix 6 but I did experience some strange HR and battery issues. I noticed when I started a running activity the HR started exceptionally high (as if it locked to cadence).
Stopping and restarting the activity brought the reading down to a more realistic level but it was frustrating how frequently this happened. In addition, for running my old eyes struggled to process the data on the screen quickly and the touch screen when running in rain was often a struggle. Again, these are very small issues to what is a terrific smart watch.
I will be honest the main reason these small niggles really became troublesome was the announcement of the new Garmin 7 watch. Frankly my perfect watch would be the Garpple or Applin as there are aspects of both platforms that I really love and some that I hate. Apple contactless payments are a joy, Garmin Pay, works, but it is a little fiddly and there are only a small number of UK banks that support the service.
The Garmin Fenix 7 / EPIX (Gen2)
Garmin announced two watches at the same release, the Fenix 7 and the Garmin EPIX 2. Simply put the EPIX is the same as the standard Fenix 7 but with the addition of an OMLED screen. The Fenix range offers a range of versions, X, solar versions and now even include a flashlight, none of which I need.
The EPIX 2 was a big temptation back to the Garmin platform. The screen on the Fenix 6 was disappointing against the Apple offering and reminded me of some of the digital watches I had a decade (or even two decades ago). The EPIX 2 features the same OMLED screen as on the VENU and put simply, it is stunning.
Garmin = Expensive?
The range is unquestionably expensive. A sapphire version of the EPIX 2 also exists. It’s lighter, features sapphire glass, double the storage and better GPS but it costs £100. Having read several reviews, the upgraded GPS on the base version EPIX2 was described as a massive jump from the Fenix 6. This and the fact I don’t need the extra storage I went for the base model (that and I couldn’t afford the Sapphire version).
Having ventured through the various models of Fenix over the years I have to constantly remind myself the EPIX comes with a touchscreen. It is a really nice feature, and you can decide when the touch screen is active. Note: when it is you can still opt to use the buttons. The touch screen makes using the maps a joy when photographing in the Mourne mountains.
Garmin EPIX 2 Battery Life
Coming from the AW7 I was already in the routine of charging my watch daily. It is brilliant to see the battery indictor saying, “6 days” and I find this to be a reality. I read several posts on the Garmin forums about screen burn. Despite everyone suggesting this was an unlikely concern I decided to activate gesture mode, this means the screen is only activate when I flick my wrist to look at the watch.
Amazingly gesture mode also jumped the battery life up to 10 days. I find the gesture mode to be reliable and the massive jump in battery time, (although not essential) is a big bonus.
Sleep tracking on the Apple Watch was disappointing especially moving from the Garmin Fenix 6. Moving to the Epix I have discovered that sleep tracking has been improved with the introduction of a sleep score. It’s an interesting metric but I am not sure how much control I have on the REM and deep sleep, but I go to sleep willing my future success.
Mapping and Routing
Mapping and routing is also improved although I won’t rely on a digital device in the mountain setting. Topo maps are great and the touch screen means engaging with the maps is much improved. One drawback of the standard EPIX 2 is that you have to download your selected map (i.e. they don’t come preinstalled). I recommend using the Garmin Express app to manage the initial map install. In use the GPS locking is incredibly fast and it is definitely more accurate compared to my old Fenix 6.
Side note : If you like to display your activities Relive is worth a look. Relive pulls activities from Garmin or Strava and models a 3D animation based on the route. (This is an example from a few years ago). If you use Strava also check out Velographic.
Apple handles recording HRV better than Garmin taking readings throughout the day and on activities. That said, there is a large discrepancy between my estimated VO2 max readings. Apple suggests 36 (below average) despite running three or four times per week. Garmin suggests 46 (Good) based on the same level of activity. I am not sure which is the most accurate but in many ways it’s irrelevant. Sticking to one device and monitoring the delta (change) is likely a much more worthwhile metric.
Both watches offer high and low HR alerts and the Apple Watch has the advantage of the built in ECG reader. On first purchase of the AW I was taking ECG readings every week but as the message was always the same I ended up rarely using the feature. It is nice to have nonetheless.
One of the biggest features I missed with the Apple watch was structured workouts. Yes, I used the ‘Work Outdoors’ app which is fantastic, but the Garmin workout feature is much more easy to manage via a web browser. The Work Outdoors app is terrific, don’t get me wrong but frustratingly workouts I did using the App were not counted by the Vitality points app.
Garmin has also improved the strength workout feature. Let’s be clear it’s not one I use often but the watch is able to automatically spot which is happening and the number of repetitions. Better still the work out maps which muscle groups are being worked.
I do miss the Apple Fitness treadmill workouts. Treadmill running is boring and the Apple Fitness runs made the time fly and definitely added a bit of structure.
Running Metrics | Garmin | Strava
Running with the EPIX Is a joy and I can read the data on the screen quickly and easily. The new Stamina metric is interesting, but I think it is simply a visualisation of how I feel as a run progresses. I noticed on structured running workouts the EPIX 2 asks how I felt during the run and grade the run out of ten. I am not sure how I would use this data though.
If you have connected your Garmin account with Strava the activity will sync across automatically. With the Apple Watch you had to confirm you wanted the activity imported (which I quite liked). One way to get around this on Garmin is to have new activities private by default and you can then opt to pick which will be shared with your followers or public.
For more information on working with .fit files see : Managing .fit files in Garmin Express and Strava.
If you track hydration Garmin estimates the additional water intake needed following an activity. That said tracking calories and water intake throughout the day can be a challenge.
To be direct, I hate notifications on my wrist. The instant attention grabbing buzz to let me know of a new podcast of WhatsApp group message can feel suffocating at times. With Apple you can control in a per app basis which is really nice. With the Garmin it’s more or less all or nothing. Call, calls and texts or everything. It sounds like a negative but it really isn’t, I am a calls only fan (at best).
It’s exceptionally difficult to compete with the Apple Watch in terms of smart features, the Apple Watch really is true extension to the iPhone. That said you the Epix and Fenix 7 do let you leave your phone behind. Both support Spotify and Garmin Pay, Garmin Pay isn’t as easy to access as the contactless on the Apple Watch but it works if your bank supports it. The Apple Watch also allowed me to reply to texts via the watch, but I didn’t use the feature as I always have my phone with me.
If you love data the Garmin platform is fantastic. Apple Health offers a full spectrum of data but it’s only really accessible on the phone, Garmin offers the connect app and better still the connect website. The EPIX 2 is definitely bigger and heavier than the Apple Watch but you get used to it. The EPIX 2 really covers pretty much everything in terms of the outdoors and health/activity tracking. The screen though is the icing on the cake.
Will I regret not stretching for the Sapphire version? I hope not.