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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: A performance-focused upgrade

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
600
£800 for Titanium edition

The Fenix 6 Pro can help you train harder and race smarter, and has useful smart features to back up its sports tracking

Pros 
Top-class sports tracking and training analysis
New PacePro tool to pace your runs
Maps and music with Spotify support
Cons 
Very expensive
Heart rate tracking not always accurate
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Was £650
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The launch of Garmin’s Fenix 6 range was met with both excitement and confusion. Excitement because the company has updated the watches to be even more impressive when it comes to sports tracking. Confusion because there are 19 new watches to pick from and some of them don't have features that were available on the Fenix 5 Plus Series, such as music storage and on-board maps.

To simplify things, it’s best to view the Pro watches in the new Fenix 6 range as the successors to the Fenix 5 Plus series. I’ve been testing out the Fenix 6 Pro and 6X Pro watches and they are a considerable upgrade on the 5 Plus, offering a bigger screen, longer battery life and new features that improve the sports tracking and training analysis on offer.

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: What you need to know

As I mentioned above, the Fenix 6 range contains 19 watches, which are divided into three sizes – 6S (42mm), 6 (47mm) and 6X (51mm) – and three categories – standard, Pro, which has music and maps, and Pro Solar, which has music, maps and the ability to gain extra battery life through solar panels in the display.

The Fenix 6 is only available in the 6S and 6 sizes and although it gets the new features like PacePro and the training load analysis introduced with the Marq Athlete and Forerunner 945, it loses the maps and music you get with the Fenix 5 Plus series. It’s more of a direct update to the Fenix 5 watch, which Garmin has continued to sell up to this point.

The Pro variants of the 6S, 6 and 6X watches all offer music storage including Spotify support and colour maps that you can use to create routes on the fly. Then there’s the Fenix 6X Pro Solar, which is the most advanced version of the watch and has solar panels in the display that can improve the battery life of the watch by up to 10%. To throw an extra fly into the ointment, there are also versions of the Pro watches that have scratch-resistant sapphire screens, which will add £100 to £200 to the price.

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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: Price and competition

The Fenix 6 range starts at £530 for the 6 and 6S watches, rises to £600 for the cheapest Pro devices, and tops out at £1000 for the 6X Pro Solar with a titanium band, though you can also get it with a silicone band for £850.

In terms of competition, the only watches that can hold a candle to the Fenix 6 Pro range are other Garmins, mainly the Forerunner 945 (£520). The 945 has a lighter, plastic build that’s more comfortable but not as sophisticated-looking as the Fenix 6 Pro, and it either already has or is due to get all the new features on the Fenix 6 Series. You might have to wait a couple of months for PacePro, though, so if want to use it right now, it’s only available on the Fenix.

Outside of Garmin’s own products the competition is rather lacking. Suunto’s flagship watches, the Suunto 9 (£359) and 9 Baro (£629), offer similarly excellent battery life to the Fenix 6 Pro, but aren’t close to as impressive when it comes to sports tracking or training analysis, and don’t offer music or maps. 

Polar’s Vantage V (£439), on the other hand, offers an innovative new feature that estimates running power and has great recovery and training load analysis, but sadly I’ve found it to lack accuracy when it comes to GPS and heart rate tracking. There are also no smart features to speak of, either, with the exception of smartphone notifications. Right now, Garmin is a long way clear of the competition when it comes to high-end sports watches, both in terms of features and performance.

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: Design and features

The Fenix 6 Pro watches all have the same five-button design you’ll find on most Garmins, and the overall look hasn’t changed much from the Fenix 5 Plus series. The watches are chunky, and have exposed screws on the bezel. However, Garmin has increased the screen size on all of the watches besides the 6S versions, which still have the same 240 x 240 1.2in panel as the Fenix 5S. The 6 and 6 Pro watches have a 260 x 260 1.3in screen and the 6X Pro and 6X Pro Solar both have the same impressive 280 x 280 1.4in display. 

While they can’t compete with bright screens you get on a smartwatch, the Fenix 6 Pro is easy to read in all conditions, and by using transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) technology Garmin is able to offer extra-long battery life across the range. The 6 and 6 Pro offer up to 36 hours of GPS and 10 hours of GPS and music, while the 6X Pro delivers a hardly believable 60 hours of GPS and 15 hours of GPS and music. Even the smaller 6S and 6S Pro offers 25 hours of GPS and six of GPS and music, according to Garmin.

READ NEXT: Polar Vantage V review

Garmin’s new Power Manager feature also lists how much battery you have left in hours and days, rather than just a percentage. At the start of each activity, you’re told how many hours of juice you have left, and you can alter your settings to extend that, by turning off the heart rate monitor, for example. Should you come close to running out of battery during an activity, the watch will alert you to disable some features you’re using so you can get to the end of your session.

That’s a nice touch and similar to what is offered by the Suunto 9. However, besides ultramarathon runners and Ironman triathletes, the battery life in the watch’s regular mode is more than sufficient. Indeed, I found the Fenix 6 Pro needed a charge around every 10 days even when running every day, while the larger 6X Pro went two to three weeks between charges comfortably.

The Fenix 6 Pro is waterproof to 100m (10ATM) and can accurately track your position using GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites. It comes with a whole complement of sensors including Garmin’s Elevate heart rate sensor, a barometric altimeter and a PulseOx sensor, the latter of which measures blood-oxygen saturation so you can see how well you’re acclimating at altitude. As you’d expect, you can also pair the Fenix with a variety of external sensors via ANT+ and Bluetooth, including heart rate monitors, footpods and cycling power meters.

Garmin’s music features are now available across a number of its watches, including the £180 Vivoactive 3 Music, so it’s easy to get a little blasé about them. However, it’s worth noting that no other serious sports watch brand offers music, and even some smartwatches like the Fitbit Versa 2 and Apple Watch don’t offer Garmin’s level of integration with Spotify – in other words, they won't let you wirelessly store your playlists on the watch to listen to offline.

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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: Sports tracking and performance

Where Garmin focused on adding smart features with the Fenix 5 Plus, it’s all about sports performance with the Fenix 6. There are three new features I’m especially enamoured by – one small, one that’s new to the Fenix but has already been seen on other Garmin devices, and one new biggie.

The small one is that Garmin now allows you to show more data fields on a screen during an activity – up to six on the Fenix 6 and 6S and eight on the 6X. Not only that, but you can now have a heart-rate gauge at the top of your screen, meaning you can easily see which heart rate zone you’re in using a colour-coded chart, which is great for judging the effort of your runs.

The biggie is PacePro, which essentially turns the watch into a smart pacing band for your runs, giving you targets for each mile or kilometre based on the terrain you’re running on, all with your specific time goal in mind. The best way to explain the benefit of PacePro is through a practical example, and luckily enough I ran a half marathon race on undulating terrain just ten days after getting my hands on the Fenix 6 Pro.

First, I grabbed a GPX file of race route and uploaded it into Garmin Connect to create a course. After that, I was able to create my PacePro target. You set an overall time or pace goal, and then choose whether you want to run a positive split (where you slow down during the course of the race) or a negative split (where you speed up) plus how much effort you want to exert on uphill sections.

With that information PacePro creates your race plan with target times for each kilometre based on the gradient and other information you’ve provided. During the run, you then get a simple data screen with your target split time, your actual split time, how much distance is left in the split, plus how far ahead or behind your target pace you are for the whole race.

I have always paced my races using kilometre splits, so PacePro instantly appealed and I loved using it in my race. At the start of each kilometre, I could see how fast I was expected to go, and see at a glance how hilly it was going to be. Though I actually ran faster than my target time for the race, it was still a hugely useful tool for judging how to approach each split.

Of course, it’s a feature that’s especially useful for undulating races, and from this standpoint, it’s more useful than using running power to judge your effort in my opinion. However, it also has a place in pacing a negative split in flat races, helping you to finish your run strong. The concerns I have with PacePro all relate to what might happen should you enter the course incorrectly, or when the GPS tracking proves unreliable. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but it could throw your entire plan out of whack instantly. However, in that situation, you can easily switch to your normal run screen anyway.

Advanced training analysis has also been added to the range, having previously only been seen on the Forerunner 945 and Marq Athlete watches. One part of this is an assessment of how well you’re acclimatising to heat or altitude with your training, but more useful is how it breaks down your last four weeks of training into anaerobic, high aerobic and low aerobic categories, using this data to tell you if you need to tweak the balance of your training to be more effective. 

It’s a smart feature that can help to balance your training, encouraging you to concentrate on your easy running at low aerobic effort, for instance, rather than pushing yourself too hard all the time, which can lead to overtraining. This feature does rely heavily on accurate heart rate tracking, however, and I’ve had slightly mixed results on that front with both the 6 Pro and 6X Pro watches I’m testing. 

On about a third of my runs, the heart rate has been consistently too high, throwing the training effect and analysis off considerably. In general, using a chest strap tracker is wise if accuracy is important to you, but I have been able to run with the Forerunner 945 without these issues, probably because its lighter design sits more securely against the wrist during activities than the Fenix.

READ NEXT: Garmin Forerunner 945 review

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: Activity and sleep tracking

Everyday activity tracking might not be the main focus of the Fenix 6 Pro, but it doesn’t sell you short on that front. You can track all the standard metrics such as steps, active calories, active minutes and floors climbed, and the watch also has Garmin’s Body Battery feature, which provides a rating of your overall energy reserves out of 100 based on several factors including your heart rate variability. This rating can be useful for sporty types when gauging how ready you are for an intense training session because a low rating might suggest you should opt for a rest day instead.

The watch also offers sleep tracking and will measure your blood oxygen saturation levels throughout the night. It’s not obvious how beneficial this might be unless you’re at altitude and checking your acclimatisation, or if you suspect you might suffer from a condition such as sleep apnoea. I often find Garmin’s sleep tracking is somewhat inaccurate, anyway, in that it marks down any periods where you’re very still as light sleep, even if you’re reading a book for example.

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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review: Verdict

The distance between Garmin and its competitors of late means that if you want to know what the best sports watch available is at any time, all you have to do is check out the newest high-end Garmin. 

That trend has continued with the Fenix 6 Pro. Garmin’s latest flagship offers a brilliant array of features that can help you improve your training and then shine on race day, backed up by useful smart features such as music and maps. If you’re looking for the best sports watch money can buy, look no further – the Fenix 6 Pro certainly justifies the extra £70 premium over the regular Fenix 6.

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