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.


Ewen said...

A friend has just bought the Fenix 5. She said it also gives you Strava segment alerts if you want to go for a PR or KOM on random segments while you're running or riding.

2P said...

Yep - all true :)

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