An added touchscreen finally unlocks the usability of this excellent navigational tool. More battery life, better open-water swimming GPS accuracy, and even a built-in LED flashlight (on some models) makes this a triathlete’s dream.
Excellent touchscreen for free onboard map navigation
Killer battery life to use all functions
Updated heart rate and GPS
Ability to edit activity screens in smartphone app (finally)
Very novel flashlight on some models
Garmin Fenix 7 Series: The Basics
Garmin’s all-in line is known for a few things: being large, having excellent navigational tools, onboard music, a ridiculous amount of sports activities and physiological data, and more. Unfortunately, some of those features were either incomplete, hard to use, or impractical—up until this new Garmin Fenix 7 line.
With the release of Garmin’s latest Fenix 7 series, their top-of-the-line watch now has many of the things triathletes truly need without compromises. No longer do we have to pay for onboard maps (they’re free, but need to be downloaded via the watch’s WiFi), nor do we have to use an über-clunky button navigation system to read those maps (thank you, touchscreen). Additionally, Garmin has bumped up the battery life, made their GPS and optical on-wrist heart-rate measurement more accurate, and introduced a few interesting features to the upgraded models. Most notably, the Fenix 7X Solar not only has solar charging to help boost the battery, but it also has a built-in LED flashlight that’s as bright if not brighter than an iPhone LED.
Garmin has also added things like “RealTime Stamina” tracker to let you know how much hypothetical fuel is left in the tank in real time as you train/race and some boosted heart-rate variability tools with the “health snapshot.” Of course, there’s much, much more to it, but those are the basics. For a more in-depth feature breakdown, check out our extended review.
Garmin Fenix 7 Series: What We Loved
First off, it’s important to note that the reason we love this watch so much is because its the sum of its improved parts. Alone, adding a touchscreen (and a good, responsive one at that) wouldn’t necessarily be cause for celebration—plenty of smartwatches have been doing that for years and years. And if Garmin just boosted the battery life, it would still put the Fenix line slightly below big, expedition-level watches like the Coros Vertix 2. But when you throw all of those things on top of Garmin’s already-excellent platform with its Garmin IQ app store, device compatibility, and more, you get the finishing touches that will probably prevent me from reaching for a different smartwatch in the future.
That said, there are some really cool, novel features on this watch—like the flashlight—that seem sort of hokey at first, but are actually pretty invaluable. For triathletes in particular, having a hands-free light that is literally with you no matter what is a huge boon, especially since so many of our activities occur in the early morning hours (think: pitch-black 5am transition call). Or because we train so much, it’s not unusual for a sunset run to become a nighttime rush back with no headlamp. The on-wrist flashlight on the Fenix 7X Solar can not only help light up to see, it also has excellent and well-thought-out modes to help with being seen. (For an animated gif on what those modes look like, check out our extended review.)
We’re also happy to report that the oft-maligned lack of open-water swim GPS accuracy has been remedied for the most part, as our tests confirmed.
Garmin Fenix 7 Series: What We Didn’t Love
This is a tough watch not to love, except for the most obvious: price. The series starts at $700, which will get you the 7S with a 1.2-inch touchscreen, 11 days of smartwatch, 37 hours of GPS, and 16GB to store your music on downloadable maps (bear in mind, you’ll likely get only one region of topo maps at a time with 16GB). Or 18 days of smartwatch battery life (which I think is the sweet spot for triathletes) and the 1.3-inch screen on the Fenix 7. If you want the flashlight, it’s going to cost you $900 minimum, but it’ll also get you solar and an impressive 37 days of smartwatch battery life. That’s a lot of money.
There are also a few little nitpicky details like the obvious size of the non-S versions. The Fenix 7X Solar is both larger in size and in weight than the gargantuan, previously mentioned Vertix 2—which quite simply doesn’t fit some wrists.
We also had some small software complaints that Garmin says are “in the works,” but you can find those outlined in our extended review.
If you’re someone who has been holding off on spending a big amount of money on a do-it-all smartwatch that’s focused on battery life, navigation, and endless features, now’s the time to pull the trigger. It’s tough to find another watch in this price range that has more features, that does them better, or that has the ecosystem that Garmin has.
Of course, if you’re looking at a watch in the $300-400 range, the new Fenix 7 line doesn’t do you much good. But there’s hope. If Garmin has a really good touchscreen on its Fenix, that means it could put it on a lower-end model. If Garmin can figure out how to stick an LED flashlight into a smartwatch, they (or someone else) can do it again. I’m an eternal believer in the power of trickle-down trinomics—meaning that expensive gear can often begat really good, less-expensive gear, later down the road.
But for the here and now, the Garmin Fenix 7 line is one of the most complete series of smartwatches for literally everything that triathletes need—plus a few things, like the flashlight, that we didn’t even knew we needed. That’s a good thing. Hats off to Garmin for knocking down all of the details and executing them well!