Reviews

Garmin Fenix 3 HR – Performance Meets Style – User Review

August 17, 2016

Garmin gave us the Fenix 3 HR ($599.99) in place of the much anticipated Fenix 4 early this year. While some rejoiced, there were those who thought it was gimmicky with the wrist based heart rate and chose to hold out in anticipation for any news of the Fenix 4; this was before Garmin’s Elevate gained traction.Fenix 3 HR feature-2The Fenix 3 HR is Garmin’s pièce de résistance at present. It features sports profiles for events like swim, bike, run, mountaineering, jump master, navigation and more. The gorgeous yet tough sapphire glass display armed with wrist based HR monitoring and a decent battery life pretty much meant this is the single device you’ll ever need if you could stomach its size.

I had the Fenix 3 HR and this is what I have to say.

IN SHORT

Pros

  • Plethora of activity profiles with option to customise and create more, including multi-sport modes
  • 24/7 fitness tracker. Tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep.
  • Optical heart rate sensors measure all day heart rate and heart rate during tracked activity sessions
  • Altimeter, barometer, compass and in built temperature sensor
  • EXO antenna GPS+GlONASS
  • Vibration and audio beeps enabled for smart notifications, alarms, move alerts
  • Expand and read messages on display
  • Pick up phone calls from watch
  • Heavily customisable in terms of display fields and usage within each activity profile
  • Garmin Connect IQ compatible for apps, widgets and watch face downloads
  • VO2 Max score, recovery advisor, race time predictor, stress score, performance indicator, lactate threshold.
  • Navigation functions
  • Training functions such as intervals and Virtual racer
  • Water resistant to 10 ATM
  • Sunlight readable Chroma display with LED back light and sapphire lens
  • Up to 2 weeks battery life with smart notifications and all day heart rate turned on
  • Create workouts, plan training on Garmin Connect web platform
  • Compatible with Vector power meter for cycling
  • ANT+ compatible, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi enabled
  • Stainless steel bezel
  • Plays music, controls VIRB camera
  • Dog Track with Alpha® 100
  • Charging while in activity with external battery pack

Cons

  • Price
  • No record of stress test or recovery HR tracked over time
  • Big in size
  • A bit laggy

Fenix 3 HR calenderThe Fenix 3 HR for this review was provided by Navicom Pte Ltd, one of Garmin’s appointed local distributors for Singapore. Navicom’s online shop at eway88.com sells most of the available models of Garmin fitness devices in Singapore. There’s free delivery guaranteed to reach you within 3 working days if you make your purchases online and a rewards point loyalty programme that can be used to offset your purchase.

I don’t get any remuneration for this article so you can be assured of its objectivity. It’s written from the perspective of an average dude who’s running a tad too much for his own good.  So some of the features such as those for navigation, stand up paddling and jumpmaster will not be explored in detail.

LOOK AND FEEL

The first time I laid my eyes on the Fenix 3, robust and big were the 2 words that came to mind; the weight and the stainless steel bezel felt just right in the hands.Fenix 3 HR feature-5The Fenix 3 HR is essentially the Fenix 3 boosted with Garmin’s Elevate technology with sapphire glass display thrown in. It feels heavy at 86.1 grams compared to the Forerunner 735XT which is a mere 40.2 grams.Fenix 3 HR visibility-in-bright-sunlight-and-nightLike all Garmin device with sunlight readable Chroma display, the Fenix 3 HR performs superbly under bright outdoor sun. Under low light conditions, the back light comes on to enhance readability. Of all the devices I’ve used from Garmin, the Fenix 3 HR has the brightest display, hands down. The brightness levels are further customizable from 5% to 100%.

The display is not touch enabled which suit water sports just fine. The straps are changeable at ranging from $24.99 for a silicon band to $199.99 for a titanium band.Fenix 3 HR -vs-fr-735xt-hrmIn the picture above, you’ll see the Fenix 3 HR optical HR sensors on the left and the Forerunner 735XT sensors on the right.  The Forerunner 735XT, released about 6 months after the Fenix 3 HR, features optical heart rate sensors of different make.Fenix 3 HR vo2max-single-and-featureThere are a total of 5 physical buttons on the Fenix 3 HR. Some buttons can be set as hot keys which will quickly bring up functions such as stopwatch or Bluetooth menu. This is the list functions each button performs:

  • Top right: START/ ENTER
  • Bottom right: BACK
  • Top left: Back light/ Power
  • Center left: SCROLL UP/ Long hold to expand for more functions
  • Bottom left: SCROLL DOWN

The most commonly used button is likely to the the single button on the center left that calls up all other functions.

There’s vibration for silent alarms, move reminders, and smart notifications. Most notifications on the Fenix 3 HR can be coupled with an audio beep.Fenix 3 HR feature-4Since it’s built for pool and open water swims, you can rest assured knowing that the Fenix 3 HR is certified to 10 ATM .

With about 1 hour of training per day (30 mins with GPS and 30 minutes without), smart watch notification and all day HR monitoring turned on, I was able to go longer than a week on a single charge.

The Fenix 3 HR supposedly lasts up to 40 hours in Ultratrac mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 2 weeks on pure smartwatch mode.Fenix 3 HR chargerThe charging cradle is proprietary and it allows the Fenix 3 HR to be charged when connected to external battery pack for those ultra long training sessions or competitions.

FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION

By now it should come as no surprise that everything associated with the Fenix 3 HR is big. Big in size, big charging cradle and big on features. Let’s dive deeper into this hardware marvel.

1) Heart rate measurement

A) Wrist based heart rate sensor 

The Fenix 3 HR features Garmin’s Elevate tech wrist based heart rate monitoring tech. I compared the HR readings, in every second recording mode, of the Fenix 3 HR against that as recorded by a Polar H7 chest worn heart rate monitor connected to a Polar Beat mobile app.Fenix 3 HR -vs-h7-flat-runThis graph above compares the performance of the Fenix 3 HR versus that of a chest strap HRM during an outdoor jog on a pretty flat road. I think you’d agree with me that when it comes to running based activities, Fenix 3 HR’s performance is superb.

With incessant concerns about the accuracy of optical heart rate readings for non running based workouts such as HIIT or weights training, I’ve decided to include HR readings during a calisthenics workout.Fenix 3 HR vs-H7-HRM-calisthenics-2The graph above compares the performance of the HR monitoring capabilities of the  Fenix 3 HR against that of a chest worn HRM during calisthenics.

I did 3 sets of bodyweight exercises which I designed myself to work all parts of the body and core simultaneously. Incidentally the portions in the graph where I’m doing my push ups are also the periods when the performance of the optical heart rate sensors are less than stellar.

My workout includes exercises like push ups which will cause the muscles on the forearm to contract and flex, thereby limiting blood flow momentarily. I presume that as the main cause of the discrepancy in readings in the Fenix 3 HR.

It’s obvious Fenix 3 HR’s heart rate monitoring capability impresses the most during running-based activities.

B) External HR monitors

When paired with the Garmin HRM-Run, you can access advanced running metrics in real time.Fenix 3 HR advanced-running-metrics-with-hrm-runYou can also invest in a HRM-Tri that will set you back  $129.99. According to Garmin, the data can then sync with Fenix 3 HR when out of the water since the wrist based optical HR sensors are not the most reliable in the water.

C) All day heart rate measurement

In this mode, the Fenix 3 HR samples the heart rate once every 10 minutes. The lowest and highest HR measured in the day will be recorded within the Garmin Connect mobile app.

You can also see the HR trend for the last 4 hours on the watch itself. The highest HR measured in all day HR monitoring mode does not include the peak HR during a tracked activity session.Fenix 3 HR -RHR-over-timeThe resting HR listed on the watch is based on the readings from the last 4 hours only. The Fenix 3 HR might have tracked a lower reading before that and THAT reading will be synced to Garmin Connect as the lowest reading for the day.

In all day mode, I wear the Fenix 3 HR pretty loosely compared to when I’m working out. Coupled with the fact that I work in conditioned environment, I’m not too stringent about accuracy of the RHR numbers throughout the day and merely use it as a guide.

Unless you have it strapped up snugly throughout the day as if you’re exercising, I’d suggest you take the readings with a pinch of salt as well.

2) Activity profiles

The Fenix 3 HR is strong in its sports profiles offerings. It also includes multisport modes such as triathlon, duathlon and even the option to customise your own multi-sport activity.Fenix 3 HR sports-profilesThe presence of altimeter and barometer further adds profiles such as mountaineering and jumpmaster which is not available on the more svelte Forerunner 735XT .

Here’s the entire list of sports profiles available on the Fenix 3 HR

The pre-installed sports profiles include:

  1. Running (indoor/outdoor)
  2. Cycling (indoor/outdoor)
  3. Swimming (pool/open water)
  4. Cross-country skiing
  5. Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  6. Rowing
  7. Trail running
  8. Hiking
  9. Strength training
  10. Cardio
  11. Multisport (triathlon/ duathlon/ brick/ custom)
  12. Mountaineering
  13. Alphine skiing
  14. Cross country skiing
  15. Walking
  16. Jumpmaster
  17. Tactical
  18. Golf
  19. Walk
  20. Other (Create your own profile)

The user can further customize the number and type of stats to be displayed within each profile.Fenix 3 HR hr-data-screens-orientationEach profile can display up to 10 screens with 4 data fields. That’s 40 stats to peruse during training! This does not include the map, HR gauge, and advanced running metrics.

Of course you can choose to disable most of the screens but understandably there are those out there who may have use for all 10 data screens.Fenix 3 HR data-screen-numbers-plus-mapIt will take a couple of test runs on your part to set the parameters to your liking. When you eventually do, you’ll find a reliable training partner in the Fenix 3 HR.

I’ll just spend some time elaborating on a few select activity profiles.

A) Multi Sport (Triathlon, Duathlon, Brick, Custom)

The key feature in multi sports mode is the ability to move from one sports profile to another without the need to cease and commence tracking again.Fenix 3 HR multi-sportSo sports profiles like triathlon and duathlon come to mind. The bottom right button functions as the transition key in this mode which means you can no longer manually set laps.

So where does the customization come in? Take for example, you like to do cardio workout followed by an outdoor run. Perhaps you even like to do this “workout” back to back. Well with the Fenix 3 HR, you can create such workouts provided it exists as one of the sports profiles.Fenix 3 HR multisportAlthough it’s listed as a single workout, a multi sport activity such as a standard swim, bike, run triathlon becomes 5 events with the inclusion of 2 transitions.garmin-connect-fenix-3-hr-screen-grabHere’s a screen grab of Garmin Connect workout summary of what a multi-sport workout record looks like. As you can see, there’s the option to further expand each “sport.” The transition duration between each event is listed as well.

B) Swim mode (Pool and Open water)

Fenix 3 HR pool-swimIn pool swim mode, you can set the distance of the pool based on a few standard pool lengths such as 25m, 33 1/3m, 50m, 25 yards, 33 1/3 yards, 50 yards, or simply input your custom pool size. Then go about your swimming and leave the tabulation of distance swam to the Fenix 3 HR

One point to note is that the Fenix 3 HR can also recognise swimming strokes in pool swim mode.

With a 20m pool at my place, this was the plan to test this feature.

I would swim 120m of breast stroke, followed by 120m of free styles, then 120m of breast stroke and freestyle alternating every 20m. The 3 cycles were tracked seperately; meaning I start and stop tracking before the next cycle.Fenix 3 HR swim-stroke-identificationSave for one 20m lap, every other workout was categorised as freestyle much to my dismay. Perhaps it’s just me but I’m not impressed here. And I swim just fine by the way.

According to the manual, the Fenix 3 HR is capable of recognising backstroke, butterfly. If you do a medley of strokes, it’ll simply list it as “mixed”. The swim stroke can only be viewed on Garmin Connect web platform and on the watch under “intervals”. It can’t be see in the mobile app.garmin-connect-swim-stroke-recognitionIn open water mode, the watch measures your distance swum with GPS. There are a multitude of data fields you can choose to display in swim mode ranging from pace to stroke rate, SWOLF scores and even compass.

The optical heart rate sensors are pretty much negated in the water so you’ll have to rely on the HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim. Both are capable of tracking HR underwater and transmitting the readings to the Fenix 3 HR when out of water.

C) Runs (Indoor and Outdoors)

In indoor run mode, the Fenix 3 HR is able to estimate distance run based on the in device accelerometer.

As per all Garmin devices with accelerometer estimated distance, the accuracy only gets better after multiple outdoor runs.

Personally I noticed that it’s the most accurate if your indoor running cadence is near similar to your outdoor run. If you decide to suddenly ramp up your running cadence, the estimated distance will likely be off.Fenix 3 HR running-detailsIn outdoor run mode, you have the option to enable GLONASS on top of GPS to track your workouts.

There’s also an option to enable 3D speed and 3D distance for greater accuracy. You know how a lengthy uphill climb is actually slightly longer than what’s indicated on the 2D map? 3D speed and 3D distance takes into account elevation change and horizontal movement over the ground in the calculation of speed and distance.Fenix 3 HR GLONASS-and-3D-speed-and-distanceHowever, unless you’re faced with big variations in altitude, the difference is probably minimal. The effect is more pronounced if you’re into mountaineering or hiking the hills and so on where the difference really adds up.Garmin-connect-Fenix-3-HR-outdoor-run-metricsAll the tracked stats are then synced to Garmin Connect mobile app. Now if you’ve configured Wi-Fi properly, the Fenix 3 HR can upload the data directly to your account so that your stats are ready for viewing when you’re stretched and cleaned up.Garmin-connect-Fenix-3-HR-outdoor-run-metrics-graphical-formI always found the graphical representations very useful. Just an idea how vast and technically capable the Garmin Connect mobile app is, you can actually tap on each graph and have it expanded for closer analysis or addition of overlays right on your smart device.Fenix 3 HR virtual-partnerLong time users of Garmin GPS watches will find the Virtual Partner function here. Set the pace you desire and benchmark your progress during the tracked activity to the “person”on screen.

3) Physiological Measurements

There are a couple of nice features which I always look forward to during and after training such as the VO2 max estimation, recovery advisor and performance condition. While there are a few others, I generally don’t pay much attention since measurements such as race predictor seem to paint me in a better light than I know I am. Ouch.

The advanced heartbeat analytics are provided by Firstbeat, a company that also provide similar services to Samsung, Suunto, just to name a few. Let’s take a look at the list of physiological measurements.

A) Stress score

You’ll be required to wear a chest strap HRM in order to estimate your stress scores. What the Fenix 3 HR does is collect your heart rate variability (HRV) over 3 minutes to determine your overall stress levels.Fenix 3 HR stress-testAccording to Garmin, multiple factors such as nutrition, sleep, training load and even general stress affect your overall performance. I can vouch for this as there were days when I was completely rested but scored highly on the stress score, presumably due to work related issues.

B) Lactate threshold estimation

Fenix 3 HR lactate-threshold-estimationAgain, another measurement that requires a chest strap HRM. This test can only be done after attaining a VO2 max estimate. Once paired with an external chest strap HRM, the Fenix 3 HR will display on screen instructions for the test to take place.

The test is expected to take 20-30 minutes and you’ll have to carry out the test outdoors as GPS is required.

C) Performance condition

The first 6-20 minutes after a run, a performance indicator measurement will pop up on the watch and the values can range from -20 to +20.

This number is actually based on the analysis of your pace, HR and HRV after your activities. It is essentially a prediction of your ability to perform compared to your average fitness level. Since this is a comparison stat rather than an absolute measurement, it can’t be accessed outside of training mode.

This stat can also be added as a data field during tracked workout sessions so you can see the performance condition throughout.

D) Recovery advisor

This measurement provides a guide how long you should rest before the next hard work out. As you get fitter, you’ll like see this duration fall for the same workout.Fenix 3 HR physiological-measurements

E) VO2 max

Put simply, the VO2 max is a measurement of the body’s ability to consume oxygen. Needless to say, the fitter and better trained you are for the specific activity you’re executing the test on, the higher the VO2 max. In order to estimate VO2max for cycling, a power meter and chest strap HRM are required.

F) Race predictor

The race predictor is based on the VO2 max estimate. I’m glad Garmin used the word predictor. Presumably in the most optimum of conditions including physical, mental and emotional, you’ll be able to hit those predicted timings.

4) All day activity tracking

Fenix 3 HR all-day-activity-trackingThe Fenix 3 HR is an excellent all day activity tracker that monitors your step, calories, distance walked, intensity minutes, floors climbed and descended, plus sleep. Most of the stats can be viewed right on the Fenix 3 HR, save for sleep.Garmin-connect-Fenix-3-HR-daily-and-instensity-minutesWhat I particularly like is that sleep tracking can be manually activated on top of having it automated. Now this would mean the Fenix 3 HR can be configured to track naps; something very important to those who train regularly. Or to those who need their daily dosage of siesta.Garmin-connect-Fenix-3-HR-summary-and-all-day-HRAll the tracked stats are synced and available for access in the Garmin Connect mobile app. The app has undergone multiple updates and has improved over time. However due to its magnitude, navigation in app can get confusing at times.Garmin-connect-Fenix-3-HR-insightsJust this year, Garmin added “Insights”to further analyse and make sense of your tracked stats. It could be as simple as comparing your current day step count versus your previous week’s step count and urging you to get up and walk more. I just wished it was more frequent or more in depth.

5) Smart notifications

When connected to compatible smart phone device, the Fenix 3 HR offers some form of smart notifications ranging from mobile app updates to phone calls.Fenix 3 HR -smart-notificationsThe short notifications can be further expanded on the Fenix 3 HR for ease of reading. Also, even though you can pick up or decline the call from the watch, you can’t actually talk over the Fenix 3 HR. You still need your mobile phone for that.Fenix 3 HR smart-notifications-customisationYou can also set how you want the smart notifications to appear when you’re tracking an activity or when you’re not, or whether the notifications should come on with vibration, audio beep or both.

6) Widgets

Widgets on the Fenix 3 HR are shortcuts that allow the user to quickly access essential information. Take for example, the “Steps” widget displays the current day step count and offers further access to the week’s step count.Fenix 3 HR step-daily-and-weekly-on-watchThere are numerous widgets you can add or remove based on your needs. A few I particularly like and revisit on a regular basis are the day’s summary, 4 hour resting heart rate reading when I get up, and the last tracked activity.Fenix 3 HR -widgetsThe list of widgets is extensive. Do remember that the more widgets you add, the longer you have to scroll to get to the one you need which may defeat the purpose of added a widget in the first place.

7) Training

There are a total of 5 functions under the “Training”tab which you could use to improve your performance. Some functions are not limited to running only and can be applied to any of the sports profiles.  The 5 functions can be seen in the picture below.Fenix 3 HR training-functions

8) Navigation + ABC

With ABC, altimeter, barometer and compass, the Fenix 3 HR is clearly designed for the outdoors. The watch is heavy on navigation and have functions such as projecting way points, saving current locations.

With “Sight and Go” function, you can simply point the Fenix 3 HR at an observable object, lock in the direction, and navigate to the object.Fenix 3 HR ABCTThere’s also an in device temperature sensor but users can purchase the tempe sensor for more accurate ambient temperature readings. The main issue is because skin temperature may affect the accuracy of the readings since the fenix 3 HR is worn right on the wrist.

The operating temperature of the Fenix 3 HR is from -20 degress celsius to 50 degress celsius.

ANYTHING ELSE

Music player – The Fenix 3 HR can also play music on connected smart phone devices. This has always been a hit or miss function for me and to be honest, I’ve never actually used this function to much success.

Garmin’s blog has a pretty decent explanation detailing how to use the music player function on both iOS and Android devices. I’ll leave it at that.Fenix 3 HR music-and-weatherWeather – The weather data is pulled from the connected mobile device. So if the Garmin Connect mobile app is not open, you won’t see data here.

Wi-Fi – The on device, Wi-Fi which has to be set up on Garmin Express, allows the Fenix 3 HR to upload tracked stats directly to you Garmin Connect account.Fenix 3 HR wifi-and-manual-sleepManual sleep tracking – As mentioned earlier, some of us take naps and it’s frustrating when automatic sleep tracking on Garmin devices only work at stipulated hours in the night.

With the Fenix 3 HR, it’s possible to track sleep under the “Settings”->”Activity Tracking”-> “Go to Sleep”Fenix 3 HR connected-to-ANT+-hrm-chestANT+ sensors – The Fenix 3 HR pairs with other ANT+ sensors such as compatible heart rate monitor, foot pod, tempe temperature sensor, speed/cadence sensor, and power meter. In the picture above, I successfully paired the HRM-Run to the Fenix 3 HR.Fenix 3 HR quick-start-keysHot Keys – Garmin has set aside the “Start” and the “Back” key on the Fenix 3 HR to double up as hot keys for quick access to select features such as stopwatch, timer, Bluetooth, or to save a location and a few more.Fenix 3 HR -watch-faces-connect-IQConnect IQ – This is Garmin’s equivalent of the app stores on App store and Google Play where you can find aesthetically pleasing watch faces more than anything else.

Vibration enabled move alerts and alarms – Once the Fenix 3 HR detects that the user has been sedentary for an extended period of time, it buzzes and alerts the user to get up and move. The vibration motor can also be utilised as a wake up alarm.

EXO antenna GPS + GLONASS – The omni-directional steel antenna is embedded in the bezel of the watch. While this is supposed to enhance GPS fixing speed, I didn’t quite feel the difference.

I even had one workout when it took the Fenix 3 HR close to 20 minutes to lock on to GPS + GLONASS. But rest assured it was worked fine most of the time, just not as fast as I expected it to be. My GPS watch for comparison is the Forerunner 735XT .

Extras – I found the Fenix 3 HR a tad laggy. Not a deal breaker but definitely noticeable. This might be unfair considering the comparison product is the Forerunner 735XT.

GARMIN FENIX 3 HR IN A NUTSHELL

The Fenix 3 HR is a remarkable GPS multi-sport training watch that’s going to feel right at home whether it’s the boardroom or the outdoors; both which are harsh by different measures. Garmin has thrown everything in their arsenal into the Fenix 3 HR, including the Elevate HR measuring tech. The watch is of premium build and I’ll be honest here, it can probably track more activities that you can possibly muster.Fenix 3 HR -feature-6The only things I didn’t like are the slight lag and size of the watch; I only have my skinny forearms to blame here.

The abundance of features and the on board optical HR sensors suggests that the Fenix 3 HR may be the only watch you’ll ever need.

If you’re not keen with the on board heart rate sensors, you can always opt for the Fenix 3 Sapphire series which come in a variety of eye candy ranging from Rose Gold tone to titanium.

fenix-3-sapphire

You can purchase the Garmin Fenix 3 HR at $599.99 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!

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