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 :)


Ewen said...

We used the 'navigation by arrow' feature of a friend's 5s on Sunday - seemed to work quite well on the bush tracks of Black Mtn. What's the lifespan of the watch? How long does the built in battery last before it dies for good? Something I'm concerned about when forking out 800 or so for a watch.

2P said...

Good question - it's a Lithium Ion battery so typically 300-500 cycles is a kind of normal life span - so given a charge is good for about 12-14 hours of GPS tracked activity over 5 days of watch wearing (less than specs say - but about my pattern of usage) - I'd say at least 4 years (based on 300 cycles) - maybe 6 if you turned off Bluetooth and other default battery chewing settings.

By that time most gadget freaks are ready to upgrade - but I'm guessing the battery is replaceable (but I don't know this for certain)

Tell you definitively in 4-6 years time (I sincerely hope not sooner) :)