The Fenix 7 is the best multi-sports wearable money can buy, but it is very expensive
- Great battery life
- Superb accuracy
- Full maps across all models
- Native running power still missing
- Multi-band GNSS only on Sapphire models
The world of fitness wearables is a complicated, varied place with products aimed at users of all stripes. If there’s any watch that appeals to everyone, however, it’s the Garmin Fenix 7.
Just like its predecessor, the Fenix 6, this is a watch so stuffed with technology and features that even the keenest of athletes are unlikely to utilise everything it offers.
It’s no spoiler to say it so early in this review but the Fenix 7 is the best sports wearable you can buy right now: it’s streets ahead of the competition.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: What you need to know
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the Fenix 7, however, is how much better it is than the Fenix 6, a watch already jam-packed with features and a brilliant sports wearable in its own right.
It must have been hard for Garmin’s development team to dream up enough new features, but somehow it has and there’s a host of new and improved capabilities to mull over here.
Top of the list is a touchscreen, the first time this capability has graced the Fenix range. There’s also a refined design and better battery life, plus more efficient solar charging (for those models that include the feature). The Fenix 7 also includes Garmin’s latest Elevate optical sensor for more accurate heart-rate and blood oxygen saturation monitoring.
And that’s not all. Elsewhere, there are improvements on the navigational side of things with support for all-system, multi-band GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and the top model in the range – the Fenix 7X – also comes with an LED flashlight built into one of the edges.
This can be used as a normal flashlight but it also serves another purpose: it can be set to flash red and white in sync with your cadence when running, to make you more visible to road users. Finally, there’s a host of new training features to tinker with, plus a refined user interface.
As with its predecessor, the Fenix 7 is available in a mind-boggling array of different sizes, colourways and feature combinations, and a commensurately wide range of prices.
It comes in three sizes – 42mm (Fenix 7S), 47mm (Fenix 7) and 51mm (Fenix 7X) – each of which has a different screen size and resolution. The smallest (the Fenix 7S) has a screen that’s 1.2in in size and a resolution of 240 x 240. The Fenix 7’s display is 1.3in and 260 x 260 pixels. Finally, the Fenix 7X’s screen is 1.4in and 280 x 280 pixels.
These models are then further split into three further variants: standard, Solar and Sapphire Solar. Or at least the 7S and 7 are; the 7X is only available in Solar and Sapphire Solar. Sapphire denotes the fact that the watch comes with scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass, while Solar indicates it’s able to harvest top-up energy from the sun, courtesy of a slim ring sandwiched between the bezel and the watch face. As for the standard variant, this comes with Corning Gorilla Glass DX and no solar charging.
Despite these differences, however, it is to Garmin’s credit that, unlike the Fenix 6 series, all Fenix 7 models now come with onboard mapping and turn-by-turn navigation.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: Price and competition
Got it? Right, let’s move on to prices. These start at £600 for the standard Fenix 7S/Fenix 7 and £780 for the Solar Fenix 7X. I’ve listed these variations in a table below for ease, but it’s worth noting that multi-band GNSS (Garmin calls it multi-frequency positioning) is only available on Sapphire Solar models.
This is where the watch can receive signals from two satellites simultaneously, which is supposed to help with accuracy in areas where other systems struggle, such as built-up areas like city centres. The other models still support all-systems GNSS, mind, which is certainly good enough in most situations, and means the watch can receive signals from three different satellite systems: GPS, Galileo and GLONASS.
|Flashlight||Multi-band GNSS, flashlight|
The big question is which other multi-sports watches you should consider alongside the Garmin Fenix 7 series. Well, none has the same level of features but there are some that compete on price as well as things such as battery life and GPS accuracy.
One of these is the Coros Vertix 2, a chunky multi-sports watch that has a big 1.4in sapphire crystal glass display, comparable battery life and multi-band GNSS. It costs £599, which is a massive £450 less than the equivalent Fenix 7X.
Otherwise, for alternatives, you’re looking at Garmin’s own stable of wearables. The Garmin Fenix 6, for instance, is still a highly capable multi-sports watch, and prices start at around £360 for a Fenix 6S and £440 for a maps-equipped Fenix 6 Pro. If it’s killer battery life you want, then take a look at the Garmin Enduro. It lacks maps and music playback but lasts a month between visits to the mains.
Finally, there’s the new £780 Garmin Epix Gen 2, which is essentially the same watch as the Fenix 7X but with a 1.4in full-colour AMOLED screen. Battery life is nowhere near as good, but it’s a nicer looking watch.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: Design and key features
Although the design has been refined, there’s nothing dramatic here. The start/stop/power button has a coloured collar that’s designed to prevent it being damaged should you drop it on the ground. Meanwhile, the bezel now extends to cover the lugs, and Garmin has moved the exposed screw heads for a more elegant overall appearance.
Otherwise, what you’re getting is fairly standard Garmin fare, physically at least. There are five buttons scattered around the edges of the watch’s body that do the same thing as they do on most other Garmin watches. The wristband is nothing special – it’s a nondescript silicone loop-and-buckle affair that attaches to the watch’s lugs via standard spring pins – but it’s reasonably comfortable as long as you don’t cinch it too tightly.
The watch is attractive enough in a rugged sort of way, but it’s undeniably chunky; you’ll struggle to squeeze even the smallest of the models under a dress-shirt cuff. The biggest change is one that, initially at least, is invisible to the naked eye: the Fenix 7’s touchscreen. And before you start grumbling about how no serious sports watch should have a touchscreen, yes, you can disable it (either completely or just during workouts) and yes, you can still use buttons for everything if you want.
However sceptical you might be, though, you might want to give it a chance before switching it off. It’s great to be able to set timers and alarms with a quick swipe and a dab of the finger, for example, and to scroll smoothly through messages and emails instead of putting dents in the ends of your fingers with repeated button presses. Panning around maps while you’re out on a hike or a long, slow run is far easier using a touchscreen, too.
The one thing I would change about the touchscreen mode is to add a bit more fine control as to where it’s enabled and where it isn’t. For instance, if I’m out on a long run, touch isn’t useful to me on most workout screens, but it is if I want to browse the map when I wander off course – so why not have a mode where touch is enabled only for maps on workout screens?
This a small gripe, however, and there are plenty of other new features with which to salve the wound. One of these is Garmin’s latest optical HR module, the Elevate Gen 4, which monitors your heart rate, stress and SpO2 levels 24/7, and it’s a major improvement. The integrated flashlight – available only on the Fenix 7X, alas – is a lot more useful than you might think, too. To turn it on and off, all you have to do is double press the top-left button and it’s surprisingly bright. I found it particularly helpful around the house, especially before early morning runs when I would often use it to find running gear in my bedroom chest of drawers without disturbing my wife.
There’s also better battery life and improved solar charging (more on this later) and a number of improvements to training features, chief among which is the new Real Time Stamina mode.
This is a measurement that can be added to running and cycling workout modes in the form of an extra data screen. It aims to provide an estimation of how much stamina you have left in the tank at any given time during workouts, based on historic training and fitness data. It’s most useful for endurance athletes who want to know if, at current effort levels, they’re likely to be able to make it to the finish line successfully or complete a workout having emptied the tank.
Naturally, the Fenix 7 also inherits all the features that made its predecessor so great. There are sports-tracking profiles for every sport under the sun – I’ve yet to think of a sport it doesn’t cover. You can also download, store and play music from Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music, so you don’t have to take your phone out with you if you like working out to a soundtrack.
Features such as Garmin Coach and workout of the day provide workout suggestions for runners and cyclists in need of inspiration. Meanwhile, PacePro helps you gauge your effort during running events, and ClimbPro provides cyclists with a visual representation of progress up and down ascents and descents.
As you’d expect, all the usual activity-tracking and fitness metrics are present and correct too. The Fenix 7 will track your sleep, steps, floors climbed and stress, and monitor your training status, VO2 Max and energy levels via the Body Battery feature, among other things.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: What’s missing?
The summary above only scratches the surface of the Garmin Fenix 7’s capabilities, but I’d be here all year if I set out every feature in this review. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that there are a couple of key features that it lacks.
The first is that the watch still lacks native running power like Polar and Coros watches do. The capability exists, but if you want to enable it on the Fenix 7, you’ll have to purchase a separate accessory such as the Stryd running pod or one of Garmin’s running power compatible accessories, such as the Garmin HRM-Pro chest belt or the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod.
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It also doesn’t have a smart fuelling advisor like Polar watches. This reminds you, on long workouts, when to take on carbs and water and adapts if your effort levels are higher or lower than expected.
These small shortcomings don’t significantly undermine the Fenix 7’s appeal, however, and it more than makes up for them with its wealth of features elsewhere.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: Heart-rate and GPS accuracy
And not only is the Fenix 7 rammed with training and sports capabilities, it’s also a highly impressive performer when it comes to general heart rate and GNSS accuracy.
As always, I used an ECG chest belt and Stryd foot pod as controls while testing the watch and, across all the workouts I’ve done so far (mainly running), the watch has performed spectacularly well.
After ten runs totalling 81km, the difference in the average heart-rate reading was a mere 1.36%, and for all but two of the runs it was below 1%, which is the best result I’ve seen for an optical heart-rate sensor versus a chest belt.
As expected, the Fenix 7’s optical heart-rate monitor lags behind the chest belt for short bursts of intense activity, and its performance for maximum heart rate isn’t quite as good, either, with a difference of 4.3% over those same runs. It’s certainly good enough for most workouts, however.
As for positional accuracy, that’s just as impressive. I was initially sent a Fenix 7s Solar to test, which didn’t have multiband GPS support – one of the watch’s much-touted new features at the launch – but even without multiband GNSS, positional accuracy was phenomenal. With single-band, all-systems GNSS enabled, I found the distances matched those reported by my Stryd pod to within 1.1%. That’s a stunning result, and examination of the GPS traces show very little wandering or corner-cutting.
Enabling multiband on the Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar does make a difference to accuracy but it isn’t huge. Over the course of another 80.5km of running I saw the distances come 0.5% closer to what the Stryd pod was reporting, with the watch generally reporting longer distances.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: Battery life
Another of the key improvements for the Fenix 7 is battery life, which has been boosted across the board compared with the Fenix 6 series.
In standard smartwatch mode, the smallest watch in the range, the Fenix 7S, is rated up to 11 days, with the solar model boosting that up to a potential 14 days. Continuous GPS and heart-rate use for this watch is rated at 26 hours (30 hours with solar) if you use the multi-system GNSS setting, and it rises to 37 hours (46 hours with solar) if you opt for GPS only.
Adding music playback hits battery life big time, dropping it to as little as seven hours alongside all-systems GNSS. I was sent the Fenix 7S Solar for this review and with around four to five hours of workouts a week (no music) I’ve been getting around a week of use before needing to recharge. That’s good enough for me.
If you want longer battery life than that, the larger Fenix 7 and Fenix 7 Solar deliver that for no extra money, with smartwatch battery life rising to 18 days (22 days with solar) and all-systems GNSS use (without music) rated at 40 hours (48 hours with solar).
The best battery life comes from the Fenix 7X, with 28 days of smartwatch use (40 days with solar) and all-systems GNSS use rated at a whopping 40 hours (48 hours with solar).
All of these times can, of course, be extended further by dropping to GPS-only modes in workouts and enabling the Fenix’s various battery-saving modes. Garmin claims the Fenix 7X can, for instance, deliver up to 139 days of use in expedition mode and more than a year in battery-saver watch mode. The latter turns most of the watch’s features off, however.
Garmin Fenix 7 review: Verdict
All of which brings us to the verdict, which is a nice and easy one to deliver. If you want the very best in multi-sports wearable technology, get yourself a Fenix 7 – preferably the 47mm model, which delivers the best ratio of screen size to battery life and cost. It’s the best sports watch that money can buy, in any of its guises.
The one caveat is that this is an expensive purchase, with even the least well-equipped Fenix 7 costing £600 and prices rising above £1,000 for the Sapphire Solar 7X model. The good news for the cost-conscious is that the arrival of the Fenix 7 has heralded price drops across the board for the Fenix 6, with the 6 Pro now available for £440. The Coros Vertix 2 is another cheaper alternative, delivering stupendous battery life and a 1.4in screen with sapphire glass for £599.