Christmas arrived early at the end of January as Garmin released not one but two watches – the Fenix 7 and Epix Gen 2.
In fact, Garmin launched tens of watches as the Fenix 7 comes in 7S, 7 and 7X models, all at different sizes, with different straps. You won’t be short of choice. We tested the 7 Solar version, while a review of the Epix Gen 2 will be coming soon.
Garmin Fenix 7 review
Garmin Fenix 7 price
First up, the price. As you’d expect for a smartwatch that’s packed with technology, it’s not cheap, with the ‘basic’ Fenix 7 coming in at £599.99 (without solar). Our test model, the Solar, is £689.99 and comes in two sizes – 42mm and 47mm. If your pockets are cavernous, you could offload £1,049.99 on the 51mm Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar. More on that later.
There was much fanfare when Garmin launched the Fenix 7 range and, after a test period comprising cyclocross racing, huge numbers of Wattbike sessions (this is winter, after all), the occasional pool swim, and off-road and road running, it’s clear that the party poppers were justified.
This is one impressive watch. Which is impressive since this is its seventh incarnation, begging the question: what’s changed over edition six?
Garmin Fenix 7 Solar battery life
Let’s start with the least sexy but arguably most important: battery life, which, in the case of your Solar version, is beefed up by the sun.
In basic smartwatch mode, you’re looking at up to 22 days if the sun shines, which it rarely does in a British winter. No worries. Sans soleil we’re still talking 18 days. Engage GPS and it’s still a mighty 57hrs (73hrs with full sun).
This is a significant upgrade on the Fenix 6 and, says Garmin, is down to the larger solar surface – a mighty 54% greater than before. In the past, we’ve criticised this solar panel, which flows around the circumference of the watch, for squeezing the display, impairing data legibility on the fly. That’s not the case here – it’s a clear, crisp delay that’s appreciated for this forty-plus athlete.
New features for endurance athletes
Arguably the standout point of difference, however, is the new Real-Time Stamina feature. Essentially, this predicts how much energy you have left in your tank and is based on two key metrics.
The first is potential stamina, which is your available capacity at a moderate intensity before you start. The second is current stamina, which is what you have left at your current intensity effort.
One of the key benefits is seeing how your capacity to increase power and performance erodes over time during a longer activity with intensity variations, the information relayed as a percentage of energy left or how much time and distance you can continue at your current effort.
The idea is to manage aspects like pacing for optimum performance and, as a snapshot, is a clever device. After my cyclocross race, for instance, where my heart rate shot up to near max from the off and remained that way for an hour, it had my potential stamina down as 5%. And, as onlookers observing my flushed face and streams of sweat would concur, Garmin was almost spot on.
They estimated sweat loss at 982ml, too, which again felt pretty accurate. Foolishly, I dispensed with any bottles to save weight and open up space to carry my bike when needed. This was a mistake as I’m a monster sweater and felt dehydrated from the off. Garmin’s bods somehow knew this!
But a word of warning: this is a guideline rather than a rule. In other words, if your current stamina’s approaching zero but the finish line’s approaching, don’t ease off. You are ultimately your best gauge.
This feature also brings to the fore the nature of fatigue and how much is psychological and how much is a physiological construct. That’s for another time but, as ever, the more you use this feature, the more benefits you’ll enjoy from it.
Out of touch? Not anymore
Another useful addition’s the impressive touchscreen. Now, I’ve banged on about it before that I’m more a button man, especially during long winter rides with thick, fleece-lined gloves on. But this is an impressively responsive touchscreen.
And, reassuringly, the touchscreen’s complemented by five robust buttons. We also appreciated the attention to detail, the start-stop button shrouded by a forged metal guard. Aesthetics are nice and it prevents the possibility of inadvertent button presses.
The list would extend into next week but includes open-water swim metrics, drill logging (pool only), power-meter compatibility (it synced seamlessly with the Wattbike), navigation, run cadence… You get the picture – you won’t be short of data to pore over.
And that data’s accurate, including the optical heart rate monitor, which is Garmin’s ‘Gen-4’. In most scenarios, this proved similar to our chest-strap data, but it still suffered the odd anomaly when working really hard. But as wrist-based readings go, it was good.
The heart-rata data was also responsible for oxygen-saturation data, breathing rate and sleep data, which tech-heads will love. GPS is top-notch, too, thanks to the ‘multi-band’ option. This picks up a greater number of satellites for greater accuracy, though does burn through the battery. Then again, this won’t be a problem for most exercise loads and certainly not in the summer.
The new Up Ahead feature optimises this GPS accuracy and is really rather nifty. Simply put, you can add landmarks to your route, which Garmin displays in easy-to-see-on-the-fly graphics. For instance, you could pencil in an upcoming café, start of a hill or toilet stop. Knowing you’re only five miles from a big wedge of cake is often the motivation you need to keep on going.
Garmin Fenix 7 Solar verdict
It’s all impressive stuff and for the serious triathlete – and let’s be honest, you’d have to be serious to invest this sort of money – you can’t go wrong. It’s a watch that’s evolved from its outdoor-activity roots and, whereas in the past, we’d have directed you to the Forerunner range, now we’d have no hesitation guiding you to the Fenix 7.
Or, if you have an even greater budget, you could go for the 7X Sapphire Solar. This is the £1,049.99 version that comes with a Sapphire screen that purports to be almost scratch resistant. But – and this is the best bit – it comes with a light. For triathletes like this one who are all too often caught out by darkness, this is a simple but brilliant addition.
Ultimately, the Fenix 7 has raised the bar – feature-wise, aesthetically and fiscally. If you have the latter and need the former, this really is the watch for you.
Verdict: Arguably the rating should be even higher, but you can’t ignore this is one hefty outlay.
Latest Garmin Fenix 7 Solar deals
For a little less money, also consider…
Garmin Fenix 6
If you’re not too fussed about getting the very latest tech and want to save a bit of money, you may want to consider the Fenix 6. Sure, it doesn’t have a touchscreen or solar charging and doesn’t get a couple of the newest features on offer with the Fenix 7, but it’s still a very capable watch.
You’ll get dozens of activity profiles to track (including swim, bike, run and multisport), heat rate monitoring, performance data, navigation and an impressive battery life. Meanwhile, GPS accuracy is very respectable and the accompanying Garmin Connect app is easy to use.