The fenix 6X Pro Solar is – if you don’t count their luxury “Marq” line – Garmin’s top of the line.
Garmin Germany gave me a chance to try it out for a month, and it was one of the best all-around sports and (somewhat) smart watches I have tried – and one that I was happy to send back…
The fenix 6X line has been out for a while already, so I don’t think anyone needs a walkthrough from me.
People have also been asking for comparisons, mainly to the Suunto 7, which I don’t think make much sense.
I will give my impressions, tell you where my problems with it come from, and in the process point to some of the ways the fenix 6X Pro compares with some other watch models I’ve recently been using, though.
The fenix 6X Pro Solar as Timepiece
As a watch, the fenix 6X has its appeal. It is – especially in this version, with titanium and sapphire glass – built to be rugged but with rather clean lines. It is big and presents itself as a statement.
For me personally, this is also a bit of a shortcoming it has, as the statement it makes is neither as rugged-outdoorsy, nor as elegantly strong, as it could be.
Garmin’s quick-release buckles are still some of the best around, little as I think that straps should be changed all the time.
Features of the fenix 6X Pro Solar
In terms of features and functions, the fenix 6X Pro Solar is the pinnacle of Garmin’s “everything and the kitchen sink”-approach. If there is a feature that a current sports and outdoors watch could have, this fenix model is likely to have it.
Sports tracking, navigation with onboard topographical maps, heart rate analysis including Firstbeat features based on heart rate variability for daily stress and recovery tracking, sleep analysis, spO2 measurement, Garmin Pay and music control and smartphone notifications…
The list is long (which is exactly why I don’t want to get into it in detail; there are enough reviews and walk-throughs for that); the watch makes it quite easy to see what one gets for the money.
If you stay in one region, communicate in one language – which probably applies to most people among Garmin’s customers – then you are unlikely to ever encounter the problems I have with it.
The expense that the fenix 6X Pro Solar would represent, together with the plethora of features, makes a few shortcomings very apparent to me, though.
1, Your Region, Your Languages
First of all, looking to the most basic of smartwatch features, notifications: Garmin’s system only ever supports languages which they consider a part of the set of languages for the region where you buy your Garmin.
The model(s) I have are all for the EU, so there is support for English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, various Slavic languages. It looks as though a few less-spoken language fonts could be installed.
I have also been working in China and communicating in Chinese, however. Support for Chinese?
Not on a watch sold outside of the Asia-Pacific market.
When I tried to ask the customer support why there would be no font set for Chinese, as if nobody outside of China / APAC could possibly ever communicate in this language, they blew me off in the most unfriendly way.
Legal reasons? Please, not for a font set.
Impossible? Hardly, most watches support Chinese character notifications.
I can understand that they wouldn’t want Chinese as a system language (i.e., the possibility to use the menu in Chinese) for all watches. Other brands do the same – but they still (for the most part) support the display of notifications.
Garmin? It’s all just the boxes showing a missing fontset.
2, On-Board Maps… If You Don’t Travel
Something similar applies to the maps.
Of course, the issue here is a thorny one; a company wouldn’t want to pay fees to offer topographical maps for all areas when most users will never get most places.
It would use up storage space unnecessarily. Maps might not even be available for many regions.
Thus, it’s fine – and aggravating all the same – that a EU model like I used it only has a (very) basic world map for anywhere but the EU; the (supposedly) great topographical maps only for the EU.
US maps could be bought, if I’m not very mistaken; mapping and China is a big issue, anyways.
It’s still aggravating because maps which come from Mapbox are free and work really well; Viewranger also has quite a bit to offer.
Using your (expensive) Garmin to run a race in China, though? Forget the maps.
Garmin’s Future Problem
Garmin has had distinct advantages over other outdoors/sports brands. Garmin’s operating system has that plethora of features, many of them beloved by users.
Where they have bugs, customers are so used to getting constant small updates that will get rid of bugs, perhaps introduce some new issues, add some features, there is little complaint about watches being released without some features that people wanted to have from the start.
That all may sound great. It makes most Garmin watches immediately familiar, as they have kept to basically the same menu operation and button layout.
The problem I had with the fenix 6X, in particular: It also means that all the Garmin watches feel very much alike.
The Instinct and the Forerunner 945 (to point to the two Garmin watch models that I also use, and bought myself to try out and show here) are not so different.
They are much more clear in the user they are for, and a much better price-value proposition in my opinion, though.
This comes to the fore all the more, for me, because maps use would be so much easier if only there were a touchscreen. The way it is, one has to do finger acrobatics with at least three of the five buttons, regularly covering the watch face a bit, just to pan around the map – and then to find that the different zoom levels are of very different use.
Garmin feels a bit stuck here.
Their system is developed so far and has become so familiar to their customers, any changes will be a tough sell.
New functionalities and new ways of operating their watches will, sooner or later, become necessary… and require a lot of work, internally and in terms of “customer education”.
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