The Apple Watch – Not For Me – I want a Fenix 3

As an Apple Fan-boy, you’d expect me to be excited about the new Apple Watch, but for me it just doesn’t seem to do enough. Now I know that it’s a first generation product and will therefore improve in future iterations. I also know that often Apple products do less than their competitors, or have poorer specs on paper, but that doesn’t usually matter. For example, iPads don’t have SD-card slots or USB ports, iPhones have poorer camera specs than many other phones and less RAM, but in use these things don’t matter. The internal specs aren’t important if the device does exactly what you want it to do and does it well. Apple’s tight integration of software and hardware usually means that despite having slightly lower specs the devices actually work better than their competitors devices. Apple may have given their gadgets the ‘it just works’ slogan, but they actually work well and that’s what counts.

I was half hoping the same would be true of the new Apple Watch, but for me it simply doesn’t come near to what I want from a watch.

A Utility

Maybe it’s because I use a watch as a real utility item and therefore really need it to do certain things. I actually wear two watches at the moment, a Breo digital watch that does two things:

  • It tells me the time and
  • it tells me the date.

I then also wear my Garmin Forerunner 910XT when swimming, cycling, running or working out in any other manner and this device does simply hundreds of things, many of which I’ll go into later. I’m actually thinking of getting the new Garmin Fenix 3 to replace this at some point though, so maybe a little comparison is needed between the Fenix 3 and the Apple Watch. I should also point out that the Fenix 3 has plenty of competitors from the like of Polar, and Suunto. I’ve always been a fan of the Garmin range though and now have ANT+ heart rate monitors, speed and cadence sensors and footpods to go with it.

Design and Fashion

This is one aspect where Apple usually excel. I’m a proper Apple Fan-Boy, I’ve been using Apple computers and other devices religiously since my first Macintosh LC back in 199o and I love everything they do. I especially love their design and aesthetics, so the beautiful Apple Watch with its lovely materials, gorgeous design, not to mention it’s materials, craftsmanship and quality should have me sold straight away. I have to admit, it does tick all the boxes here, and as a wearable, fashion item or piece of jewellery this should be more important than ever for an Apple device. I quite like rugged looking watches myself though and the new Fenix 3 isn’t exactly ugly itself – The 910XT that I currently have isn’t much of a looker though it has to be said.

When it comes to looks there isn’t much in it, although the Apple Watches screen is more colourful.

Timepiece

As a timepiece, both the Apple watch and Fenix 3 seem to do well.

  • They tell the time,
  • they tell the date

As mentioned above, that’s all I really need from a timepiece. I want them to be accurate as well of course, but a even £1.99 watch from the market manages that, so I don’t think accuracy would be an issue these days. They both have customisable watch faces too. No doubt there will soon be literally thousands of such watch faces for the Apple Watch, all available to purchase through a Watch App Store. Garmin has it’s own app store as well, and yes, you can get some nice looking customised watch faces from it, free of charge, for the Fenix 3. It’ll never have the same amount of choice as what will be available for the Apple Watch, but as long as it has a few that I like the look of I’ll be happy. It may sound silly, but watches are fashion items, so being able to change the colour or style of the watch face sounds great to me. I’d love to have several watches, sporty ones, different coloured ones, formal ones to match my mood, the occasion or the colour of my outfit on any given day [Ha, ‘outfit’, sounds as though I’m some sort of snappy dresser!)]. I can’t afford a different for each day of the week though and I probably wouldn’t bother changing them very often anyway. Being able to change the look of the watch by changing the watch face though could give me this all from a single device. Custom watch faces sound good to me and both the Apple Watch and the Fenix 3 tick the necessary boxes here.

Fenix Watch Faces

Fenix Watch Faces

Battery Life

The other important thing from the point of view of a timepiece is battery life. My ‘watch’ has a battery that lasts at least ten years. I never even think about it, I look at my watch, it’s always on, it tells me the time. I have old broken watches in my drawer that have been there for years, and they still tell the time as well. Not so with these new smart watches though. The Apple watch will barely get through a day from what I’ve heard (battery life info here) and will need charging every night. If you use some of its more advanced features heavily then it won’t last long at all. In workout mode you can only expect 6.5 hours of battery life and in ‘watch only’ mode not using anything else it might make 48 hours. It’s not rare for me to do more than 6.5 hours of ‘working out’ in a day and at that rate it’ll only just get me through a half Ironman. It certainly won’t last me for a whole Ironman Distance race.

The Fenix 3 fares a little better with stated battery life of 50 hours in UltraTrac mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 3 months in watch mode. I find this odd as the Fenix 3 has it’s own, very accurate, top of the range GPS chip in it. GPS is usually quite a power-hungry thing, but it still manages better battery life than the Apple Watch does, and the Apple Watch doesn’t have built in GPS.

None of them can match the 10 years plus of a standard watch, but the Fenix 3 seems to win hands down when it comes to battery life.

Water-Proofing

This is essential for me, I’ve had two non-waterproof watches in the past. The first lasted about 2 hours. It was replaced with one just the same as I really liked the look of it. I vowed to be careful with it and took it off when showering and such like. That lasted about 3 days before I killed it as well. Lesson learned, watches for me have got to be waterproof!

The Apple watch is supposed to be shower-proof, but I don’t think I’d risk it and I certainly can’t afford to take one swimming or surfing. The Fenix 3 on the other hand is completely and utterly waterproof. I’d think I’d be happy taking it scuba diving.

Another thumbs-up for the Fenix 3. If it ain’t properly waterproof, it ain’t for me!

Daily Activity Tracking

Apple Activity Tracking

Apple Activity Tracking

Whilst not essential, it’s nice to be able to track the number of steps you do, the calories you burn, your sleep patterns and your heart rate throughout the day. The Apple watch will do this and no doubt once it is opened up for developers to create apps for it, there will be a plethora of tracking apps available. At the moment, app developers can only create apps for the iPhone that can interface with the watch to display certain screens or ‘glances’. Only Apple themselves can develop full blown Watch Apps, but that will change.

The Fenix 3 also tracks steps, sleep and other metrics, and you can get apps for it too. There’s even a Heart Rate Variability app available for it that I like the look of.

Heart Rate Tracking

The Apple Watch also has a built in optical Heart Rate Sensor so can track heart rate 24/7. I like the idea of this, but in practice optical heart rate sensors aren’t as accurate as a chest strap heart rate monitor. The Fenix 3 can of course record and track heart rate, but only from an ANT+ chest strap. I’m used to this when exercising, but I don’t want to wear a chest strap 24/7, so daily tracking isn’t really possible with the Fenix 3.

I’m torn on this one. 24/7 heart rate tracking from a built in optical sensor would be nice, but the more accurate heart rate monitoring from a chest strap is better for workouts. If only the Fenix 3 had a built in optical HR sensor for daily tracking that could be over-ridden if a chest strap was detected… ‘Fenix 4 HR’ anyone?

Navigation and GPS.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have built in GPS, instead it leverages the GPS chip in your iPhone and can use that for activity tracking and navigation. It therefore has a built in navigation app, but it only works if you have your phone with you. The Garmin Fenix has a top of the range GPS chip in it. Garmin do GPS, I’ve had various Garmin GPS watches and all have been faultless from a GPS standpoint. The Fenix 3 out performs my older watches in terms of satellite acquisition speed and accuracy and I have no reason at all to doubt the GPS capabilities of the Fenix 3. It also provides comprehensive navigation and tracking functionalities allowing you to create and follow courses, mark up to 1,000 locations and store up to 10,000 track points and navigate to them (useful for geocaching). It also has a 3-axis electronic compass, an altimeter and a barometer.

Once again, I’m sure the Apple Watch will have such features through it’s apps, but they aren’t built in and really they’ll just be a window on your phone as the phone will be doing much of the heavy lifting. In fact, the Apple Watch itself doesn’t seem to do much at all, except power what must be a very power-hungry screen.

Sports Features

I could go on forever here as this is what I use my watch for. As I said before from a watch point of view I use it to tell me the time and date, from a training point of view this is how I currently use my Garmin.

Swimming Indoors

My Garmin counts my lengths, keeps track of how far I’ve swum, records which stroke I’m doing, counts my strokes per length, records the time and distance of each interval and each rest interval. It tells me my average speed per 100m for each interval and provides me with a total time and total distance. It also provides metrics such as average strokes per length, SWOLF score and efficiency. It measures other things too such as strokes per minute but the ones above are the ones I use every time I go swimming.

The Apple Watch by contrast would simply break if I took it swimming!

Openwater Swimming

Once again, my Garmin does many of the swim features mentioned above, but rather than record the number of lengths I’ve done it uses it’s GPS to measure the distance swam and to track my course.

The Apple Watch by contrast would simply break if I took it swimming!

Cycling

The list is endless here, but the everytime I go cycling I use my Garmin to record my time and distance. I usually have the screen set up to show the total time, the total distance, my heart rate and my average speed. It is also recording my cadence, exactly where I’ve been (and therefore those all important Strava segments!), the amount of climbing I’ve done and if I had a power meter it would be recording that and all of the metrics that go along with it too.

I often set up custom workouts on it and use the watch not only to record the intervals within those workouts, be they hill reps, fixed gear efforts or sprints, but also have it set to beep at me at set intervals to tell me when the next interval is upon me. These can be set based on time, distance or even heart rate, cadence or power levels, but it’s a useful training tool that I often use.

The Apple watch will do some of this, but only if you have your phone with you too. Speaking of which, you need at least an iPhone 5s for it to do anything really and I only have an iPhone 4, so if I were to get an Apple watch I’d need a new phone as well! Whilst there might be apps released in the future that allow it to measure things such as cadence and power, they certainly aren’t built in and will never work with the ANT+ sensors that I have, they’ll probably only work through bluetooth and once again will still need you to have your phone with you.

Indoor Cycling

Once again the Garmin will record all of the expected metrics such as time, distance, speed, cadence, power, heart rate and such like and I use it in conjunction with the ‘power relay’ feature of TrainerRoad to generate virtual power readings without having to have an expensive power meter. I doubt that the Apple Watch will do many of these things

Running

Things are no different here. The Garmin provides me with GPS, time, distance and speed readings. Heart rate, pace and interval data. I even have an ANT+ footpod on my running shoes for measuring my strides per minute and it all works flawlessly.

The Apple watch might do some of these things, but it won’t connect to an ANT+ footpod and once again, most of it will only work if you have your phone with you. It’s bad enough having to take my phone cycling with me, but I never take it running with me. Having all of this built into the watch is the way I want it, and that’s what the Fenix 3 provides. The Apple watch doesn’t.

The Fenix 3 actually comes with a new heart rate chest strap that has some advance running dynamics built into it. As far as I know this will measure things such as ground contact time and vertical oscillation as well as cadence. It’ll do away with the footpod I think and will provide yet more data. Quite what I’ll do with data such as ground contact time and vertical oscillation I don’t know, but it sounds good!

Connectivity and Notifications

Connectivity

Connectivity

I’ve never had a watch that connects to my phone via bluetooth, or anything else for that matter, but to not mention it would be unfair. The Garmin watches come at the watch market from a background of sports tracking and recording so have always suited my needs well. The Fenix 3 has improved on these features and has added mobile connectivity and notifications into the mix as well. The Apple watch is coming from the other angle, it’s really a wearable portal to your phone with some health and fitness tracking abilities added on. The Apple Watch therefore allows all manner of phone apps to interface with it and display notifications on your wrist.

The Apple Watch displays emails, text messages, allows you to answer and make phone calls on your wrist and will display any notification that an app on your phone wants to send it (or that you allow). In time every app will have watch notifications built in and it’ll be up to you to decide what you want to see on your wrist and what you want to keep on your phone. It can display your photos and allows you to send messages and even sketch on its screen. You can even send your heartbeat to someone if you want – quite why you would want to I’m not sure, but the odd gimmick here and there is fine by me.

To be honest, whilst I quite like the idea of all of this, I’ve never really been one for notifications and constant connectivity. I’m renowned for being ‘without phone’, I switch off many notifications as they get annoying after a while and I’m often out in the middle of nowhere with no reception anyway. Besides, I think the last thing I want whilst in the middle of a hard hill reps session is a text message from my Mum (no offence mother!), I don’t want emails from clients whilst enjoying a sunset swim in the sea, and I don’t want phonecalls whilst running through the mud, I just want to be alone with nature!. When I’m out getting some R&R, albeit hard sweaty R&R, I want to be left alone to concentrate on the pain and the suffering.

Besides, these features are really just an extension of your phone and once again only work if your phone is within bluetooth reception of the watch. The new Fenix 3 does have some of these features itself and for these features it too needs to be in contact with your phone. The Fenix 3’s Smart Notifications let you receive emails, texts and alerts just as the Apple Watch does, but whether or not I’ll use them remains to be seen. As with the Apple Watch the Fenix 3 also needs a better phone than I have in order to use these features, so maybe a phone upgrade will be on the cards sometime soon as well.

Apps

We all know that the Apple Watch will eventually have a huge ecosystem of apps to do all manner of things. When these come online maybe it will be able to match some of the features of the Garmin watches that I use everyday, but will they ever be as tightly integrated into a single package as they are on the Garmin, or will this mean that I need a separate app for swimming, a different app for measuring my heart rate and a third app for cadence? Who knows, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. The current Garmin offerings seem to be way and above those offered by the Apple Watch from my point of view, and although I don’t NEED and upgrade, the release of the Apple Watch may have just convinced me to upgrade from the ugly but fully capable Forerunner 910XT to the nicer looking more capable Fenix 3.

What will I gain?

I could stick with my Breo timepiece for everyday wear and my Garmin Forerunner for exercising, but having the Fenix 3 will combine timepiece and exercise tracker into one elegant looking wearable. I’ll also gain the ability to track steps, daily calorie burn and sleep patterns which my current wearables won’t do.

If the Heart Rate Variability app on the Fenix 3 works as well as it is supposed to then I’m quite excited about that as I’ve been interested in Heart Rate Variability as a way of monitoring fatigue and well-being for a while.

The Smart Notifications will be fun, I may end up switching them off, but I may quite like it, we’ll see.

I’m excited about the custom watch faces, and that’s something new for me.

The advance running dynamics will be new too, although I’m not sure how useful they’ll be.

The Fenix 3 has some better swimming features and records rests and drill intervals better than the Forerunner did.

The Recovery Advisor and VO2 Max data might be nice too, as will the improved navigation features and the ability to use it for geocaching.

All in all, it is quite an upgrade for me and a nice new gadget is always welcomed. Maybe one day the Apple Watch will catch up, but until it does, it’s Garmin all the way for me, and until the Apple Watch is fully water-proof it’s not even an option.

 

 

 

8 Responses

  1. gustaf says:

    I’m also completely sold on the Fenix 3 and I’ve only recently got it.
    My main form of exercise is swimming but I haven’t managed to set it up to do all the things you list for detecting the type of stroke, average time per length, etc etc. Are you using a separate app for this that does not come pre-installed or am I missing something?
    /g

    • Alan says:

      Hi Gustaf,
      Glad you;re enjoying the Fenix 3. As far as the swim metrics are concerned then all of these things are standard with the pre-installed Pool Swim app. You just have to configure the data screens within that app to show the metrics that you want to see.

      Al.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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