Sunday, October 14, 2012

First impressions: Garmin Fenix

The ever increasing popularity of 'wrist computers'..
I believe the term was coined by Suunto of Finland who came up with their first line of multi-sensor watches back in the early-90s.
My first and only watch made by them was a Suunto Vector.
Spare the lousy battery life, I am still keeping the watch in my drawer.
And with the progression of microchips and micro-processors, today's wristwatches are integrated with the GPS.

Garmin's latest: the Fenix GPS watch
A history lesson
But, all that said and done, Garmin was not the first manufacturer to come up with a GPS-watch.
It was Japanese watch manufacturer Casio that came up with the Casio Protrek PRT-1 model 1840.
This watch costs nearly RM2k in the market and was really chunky.
The issue back then was apparent: low battery life, slow acquisition of satellites, yields very basic information and has to be charged through an AC socket.

A world's first: The Casio GPS watch
Raising the ante
Casio's entry into the wearable GPS market was a good start.
And as time progresses, the watches became better.
It was Suunto who took the GPS watch to a new level with the X10 military watch.
They had the M9 watch earlier and it took a lot of patience on the part of the consumer to wait for their watches to arrive on our shores.
With a pricetag of RM3.5k off the shelves, the Suuntos are way out of many people's league.
And lastly, the GPS coordinates would take at least 5 minutes to acquire. This is way too sluggish for people of the move..

Beauty minus the brains: Suunto X10

Enter the Fenix
Leave the GPS-watch to the people who really knew everything and anything about manufacturing it.
Garmin, for starters, had the experience in manufacturing GPS units for commercial and leisure use and the best examples can be seen on their sports GPS modules.
From the modest Forerunner 101 to the 910XT, their wearable satellite receivers had gone through constant refinement.
As for the outdoor market, Garmin took their time.
It wasn't until the second-quarter this year where the Garmin Fenix was announced.
The first display sample was shown in late August and I managed to get a closer look at it in Penang last month.
To my surprise, not many retailers are selling this product.
I managed to get hold of one from Quick Sport
From what I learned, this shop dealt with Garmin GPS units for bicycles like the EDGE200, 500 and 800.
I bought Michelle a Garmin 200 from Quick Sport when we rode in Penang last month.

Big and beautiful: the Garmin Fenix on my wrist
 What's good?
This watch can go on for six weeks without a charge.
In 'watch' mode of course!
To get the ball rolling, you need to plug it in via its supplied cradle (there is a set of pins on the back plate) and leave it for at least two hours.
It'll give you a 100% charge till the next plug-in session.
In time-keeping mode, you must allow the watch to acquire the hour and minute display real-time.
This means: leaving it to synchronize with the birds up in the sky.
What I like is the fast cold start (right out of the box, acquiring 9% accuracy in less than 3-minutes) and once you received the signal, you can kill the GPS 'on' function and go straight to timekeeping mode.
Even the display can be customised.
Mine is rigged to show the battery-level, time of the day, date and sunrise/sunset.
I have yet to try its route-tracking abilities, but having seen how compact this watch is, battery life is an issue if you are engaged in a long-duration expedition.
The screen display is crisp and crystal-clear and for the backlight feature, I give it two-thumbs up.
You can set the screen brightness to your desired level.

Big is beautiful and size does matter..
I tried the Garmin Forerunner 601.
Its a small watch with a puny display and frankly, it was not meant for people with big wrists.
Having tried it for a few times, I decided to do away with it. 
I don't run or compete in cycling races, so, that said, the 601 was overkill.
As for the Fenix, everything on this watch screams: "Beautiful!!!!"
I love the large face and its clear display. 
At a single glance, I am able to tell the time.
Even the buttons are robust. They are large and textured to give a quick response when you toggle around the function of the watch, GPS and its sensors.
For the fitness freak, you can strap on a heart rate monitor and if you cycle, the Fenix can be paired with the GSC-10 speed and cadence sensor.
Other cool stuff includes the tempe wireless temperature sensor and a sackload of coloured straps which you replace.

What sucks?
This is not a watch for you if you have no basic knowledge in using a handheld GPS unit.
I found that many of its functions - like the page toggle had descended from the GEKO series GPS.
So, you need to keep pushing buttons to get from page to page and this is time consuming.
I think Garmin may someday produce a large-faced watch with touch-screen. Which is not far from reality because of the Forerunner series watches.
Other than that, I can't really find any fault to go with this wearable GPS..

No comments: