Sunday, April 23, 2017

Exploring the Fenix 5 Navigation Options


Double wow!!

Triple WOW!!!

I'm impressed.

The versatility and practicability of the Fenix 5 navigation functions is extremely impressive - and my impression only has a little to do with the new maps screen addition. One of the reasons I got it was because of the promise of a focus on broader outdoor pursuits and not just fitness - and so far, it hasn't disappointed.

In fact, the capacity to customise and maximise your data feed outstrips that of the handheld Garmin outdoor lightweight sports flagship, the eTrex Touch 35 t (though it is pretty sexy too).

To be fair, a lot of GPS watches (Garmin and otherwise) have components of this functionality, but they aren't as accessible, comprehensive, or as customisable in my view as the Fenix range and the '5' is taking it to the next level.

The map function is ok, but the screen is limited in size (obviously) and fairly low res (compared to say, an Apple Watch) - it's also not quick, or simple to pan or zoom. The preloaded Aust/NZ topo lite mapping is ok for around town, but with a 40m contour interval not really suitable for off-track bush navigation. NB I've loaded the full version that I already had (10m contour interval) but haven't been able to get it to unlock (yet)??? 

Used in conjunction with a standard paper (yes paper) 1:25,000 topographical map and a compass, in theory, you could find your way anywhere with absolute certainty. NB the small size of the receiving unit and antenna - along with the issues inherent with all GPS units, doesn't make this strictly true in practice.

Also true, you do need a bit of Nav-fu to be able to interpret it all and apply the correct settings on the Fenix to match it to your map data, but it isn't rocket science - just arcane.

Why a paper map? Context. Any GPS screen is too small for on foot, in the donga navigation. Screens are ok when you have nearby reference points and road locks, but not so much where the nearest peak is 2km away and you need to keep small scale (more detail).

So in the Navigation settings you get some standard data screens - some are set and 2 are customisable, but you can also elect to add in more customisable screens too.

In preparing for an upcoming off-track bushwalk, I've set my navigation data screens up to give me what I want, when I want it.

In setting the customisable screens you can select from 1 to 4 fields in various different configurations. I go for 3 fields mostly, with the main info I want taking up half the screen. I've also grouped the data depending on my purpose in referring to the GPS.

Below is my preferred setup. Note, I've added a 3rd customisable data screen.

Data Screen 1


Data screen 1 shows me the compass heading (direction I'm currently travelling), the GPS heading (the direction the GPS wanted me to go from point A to point B), and the bearing (the direction I actually now need to travel to get to the next waypoint from where I currently am). In practice, I still trust a magnetised needle over an electronic one for marching on a bearing. My trusty Silva is also a must for shooting bearings directly off the map between waypoints.

This data is really useful though as a snapshot when on foot in the bush, because you can build up a little mental map of what you are ACTUALLY doing, compared to what you should be doing. 

In the real world in the scrub you usually can't go in a straight line - vegetation, rock outcrops, and other vertical challenges have a habit of getting in the way. So having the data to help you understand the ramifications of your detours and build your mental map and get back on course is great.

Data screen 2


I've set data screen 2 to show destination waypoint (what I've called the spot I'm now heading to - when tired this is more useful than you may think), the horizontal distance remaining to the next waypoint, and the vertical distance to the next waypoint (Pythagoras fans knock yourself out).

This data is all about feelgood or depression (depending on your outlook). It gives you the guts of how much further you have to go.

Data screen 3


And finally, my 3rd screen I've set to show my location (where I currently am right now in a way I can translate to a 6 figure grid reference for my map), and my elevation (what contour line I'm on).

This data allows pretty pinpoint location on a map as long as you have a reasonable view of the sky and keep the altimeter calibrated (particularly in changeable weather).

The list of data field choices is absolutely enormous, so you could go on making up new customised data screens to your hearts content. What drives the decision on how many, and which data, is the nature of the environment and purpose of your trip.

You can manually input your waypoints or use Garmin Basemap (free) on your Mac or PC. Or, use a third party program like Memory Map (free) using 3rd party mapping (that you have to buy - though there is an increasing amount of open source digital mapping available these days). You can also create routes, but my preference is to navigate waypoint to waypoint - IMHO it keeps you sharper as you get tired.

And of course, there are the set screens (not pictured) that include the map screen and other fitness and watch data.

The only limitation that really sucks on the Fenix is that you cannot sort the waypoints alphabetically like you can on the Etrex for easy scrolling to what you are looking for.

CAVEAT: as previously stated, for it be accurate, you need to make sure all the settings on the Fenix match your map data - and you need to keep the compass and the altimeter on the Fenix regularly calibrated - don't rely on the GPS to do it automatically as they are notoriously inaccurate. 

And as always with GPS, you also need to take into account your view of the sky and take your location with a grain of salt if your view is in any way impeded.


I now have a better appreciation of the price of the Fenix, as you are really getting 2 devices - a state of the art GPS fitness watch/hrm and a serious navigation GPS/compass/altimeter all in the one package. Oh yeah - tells the time too...

The design engineers at Garmin have really put their best foot forward on this one. While it could be just called an incremental advance on the Fenix 3 - I'm calling it a game changer that is on the right track to replace handheld devices and a concept that will only be improved on over time.

So will the Fenix 5 replace the eTrex as my primary GPS for bush navigation? Well the jury is out till I've tested them side by side and I can put the small receiver and antenna through their paces on my upcoming odyssey.

Happy days :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Garmin Fenix 5 vs Apple Watch (series 2)

I'm injured at the moment - some kind of disturbance in the lateral upper left leg - so.... nerd post time :)

I recently saw a blog by a major retailer where the two devices were compared - and on balance, the verdict was close - citing one better in some areas than the other, and vice versa. It gave the impression that they are somewhat interchangeable.

Well in my view - there is NO comparison.

Don't get me wrong, both are supremely excellent pieces of technology. And while there is some overlap in function, they really are two very different devices.

Apple Watch (series 2) 


There are some things to really like about the series 2 for the athletes out there. 

The main thing is the addition of a stand-alone GPS. This means your watch is not interdependent on your iPhone for measuring activities - and apps like Strava have updated so that you can upload post-workout and leave the phone at home. Another thing, is the battery seems to last longer than series 1. Oh yeah, they've also upped the water resistance. Apart from that though, it's pretty much the same watch as the series 1.

The Apple Watch is a brilliant productivity tool. No doubt about it. I love the haptic alerts, visual announcements and the format of incoming emails and texts - it's so unobtrusive when you are in company, particularly when you are expecting that urgent message. Being able to answer your calls by doing the Dick Tracy and speaking into your wrist may seem gimmicky, but if you've left your phone in another room, or you nip just outside, it's actually pretty handy. Same, same, using the native microphone to dictate quick text or email replies.

The touchscreen is both a blessing and a curse. Great when your hands are dry, but even the slightest moisture plays havoc. Yep, you guessed it, sweaty athlete fingers make it a nightmare to pause, resume, stop, or save.

The screen clarity and map functions however, are simply sensational even if they are battery gluttons. No sports watch even gets close to the clarity of an Apple Watch screen.

The GPS function is a nice addition, but in my experience it always measures about 200m long no matter the distance of the activity - I suspect this is due to an inbuilt compensation for starting activities before you actually have a GPS lock (you get no 'GPS ready' alert on an Apple Watch) - though I don't really know...

I've also had several 'auto-pause' fails on both versions of Apple Watch and I'm not sure if it is a hardware or a software issue? While I'm at it, I've had some heart rate reading fails on both versions too - though these could be user error through not wearing it snug enough.

There is no native Apple Watch sport software on the watch either. Software is only available via 3rd party apps and is pretty basic too (yet) - you can get things like time, distance, pace and heart rate data all in realtime - but there are no programable data screens, alerts, or workouts.

Durability wise, the Apple Watch comes standard with the absolutely bombproof sapphire screen (why don't they put these on phones?) - but the series 1 was very prone to water damage resulting in the back falling off when removing it from the magnetic charger. The body of the watch frankly doesn't wear well at all - I was quite disappointed in the degradation of the look of my version 1 over about 18 months (as it is my primary work watch). The series 2 is allegedly far more water resistant, but not guaranteed waterproof. Apple claim they are suitable for swimming though.

Bottom line - Apple Watch is great if you want a wrist wearable productivity tool and you want to do the odd bit of impromptu activity recording. Or perhaps if you want to travel light on that work trip and still capture your activities without packing a second watch. For the non-nerds who don't want reams of sports data or customisation, it would be cool too. But if you want an out and out sports watch - then buy a sport watch.

Garmin Fenix 5


Wow what a training tool!

This thing is truly amazing in terms of its accuracy, ease of use, integration, and customisation capability.

It doesn't matter what sport you're into (including golf), you can go with the presets or customise the Fenix to your hearts desire. Every possible piece of data you could possibly want is achievable in real time, or through Garmin Connect after your activity is over.

And of course, the main shortcoming of the Apple Watch isn't an issue - it doesn't matter how wet your fingers are, the buttons always work! 

The addition of maps is welcome, but the screen quality is nowhere near the Apple and this is also where the lack of touchscreen is problematic, because zooming and panning is ├╝ber-clunky. So much so, it's almost useless to try. It also only comes standard with Australia/New Zealand Topo Lite (contour interval of 40m). I've tried to load up the full version, but so far I haven't been successful in getting it to work. So not really a functional stand-alone navigation tool for off-trail activities - but used with a hard copy map it would certainly provide peace of mind when venturing into the donga.

That said, the capacity to program in tracks, routes, and waypoints using the full topo maps available for purchase, or the standard ones on the device using Garmin Basemap is simple and a great feature for assisting navigation. I haven't yet used the bicycle map function, but it looks good.

The compass, altimeter and barometer are all nice inclusions too.

One really good thing about the screen (I have the 5X) is that you can actually read it without magnifiers (I usually require +2.5s). I generally configure for 3 data items on the main screen and make the top one a full half of the screen (lap pace for running & speed for riding). The bottom half I divide into total time and total distance. In this configuration, I can see the top data field clearly, but have to concentrate my focus a bit for the two bottom numbers. On most other devices, I can't see diddlysquat without specs on.

I haven't yet experienced any of the auto-pause or heart rate issues I've had on the Apple, but it's early days yet.

So far, I've programmed in a Moneghetti Fartlek workout and it was a breeze - though you can't do it directly on the watch - you need to access the full web version of Garmin Connect from a PC to do the programming and then download it.

The Fenix also functions as a wristwatch (whodda thunk it?) and due to the rather efficient screen, the battery life is far, far superior to the Apple Watch. You can receive emails, texts and other phone alerts - but the formatting is very basic and with no inbuilt microphone you can't respond. To be honest, I've disabled phone connection on mine.

Being a total nerd, I've also paired my Fenix 5 with Varia Vision heads up display and Varia Radar for use on the bike - I can't imagine a better solution for riding in vehicle traffic. It works seamlessly, as advertised, with both screens displayed simultaneously, and is superb. NB the radar is not infallible, but it sure beats not having it. One thing, the haptic alerts of an approaching vehicle through the Fenix are much more detectable than with the display alone.

Durability wise, having been won over to sapphire by Apple, I paid the extra for the sapphire face on the Fenix. The body looks like it could survive a spin dry cycle in a washing machine and the Fenix is genuinely waterproof. No issues.

One downside, yet another proprietary bloody connector!!! Absolute pain in the arse if you leave the cable somewhere else when you need it.

Bottom line - the Garmin Fenix 5 is the ducks nuts as a sporting watch that also functions as a conventional wristwatch, but if you want a usable productivity tool you can wear on your wrist, get an Apple Watch.

The Verdict

I'm super-glad I'm in a position to own both, but if I could have only one, it would be the Apple Watch - the series 2 has just enough sports functionality to be acceptable as a modern sports watch - whereas the Fenix 5 productivity/phone tools are still in the realm of gimmick. NB the Varia Vision and Varia Radar can work independently of the watch. 

That said, if I wasn't so dependent on the productivity tools on the Apple Watch for work purposes, I'd probably rethink my decision.