My thoughts on Garmin Fenix 3

It’s been a long time since I was a owner of Garmin Fenix 3. For a long time I was using the Forerunner 310XT but I always wanted a device that I can wear all the time, that will measure not only my runs, but also my activity and sleep.

When I first saw the Fenix 3 my head exploded. Gosh it was a beauty! Classy watch, not only an ugly fitness device. I waited patiently for the DCRainmaker’s review and right after reading it, I’ve ordered my brand new “perfect” GPS watch.

garmin-fenix-3

Few days later I’ve received it and unboxed. Garmin Fenix 3 Performer Bundle. In real life it looked even nicer. The build quality was excellent! Color screen, activity tracker, Connect IQ, great battery life, barometric altimeter! It has everything I ever wanted + much more. Sure it was expensive but hey, it supposed to be a watch that I will be using for at least few years.

fenix3_3600x2400_300dpi

I have configured it, paired heart rate monitor and foot pod and went for a run. The satellites were found after few seconds. Start! Everything fine but suddenly, bang! After 1km the watch went crazy and showed me the distance of more than 2 km. I ended the activity and started new one (In the summary it was like 1km in 1,2 second or so- new record was saved in the watch:)). I forgot about this incidence and started to enjoy my new equipment. Thought it was just a one time glitch. The problem appeared once I synchronized the activity. I noticed many corners that were cut, the route was like i was running drunk. And the distance seemed to be too short.

The next runs I have done always with my 310XT, side by side (it’s a shame that those files are lost because of my ssd disc failure:/). And it appeared that every time, seriously every time, the Fenix 3 was short in distance. It was ok on straight routes, but every time I saw a tall building, tall tree, or god save me, some tree cover, I know the Fenix 3 distance will be shortened. Every watch appeared to have better accuracy than it. I’ve compared it with 310XT which has excellent GPS receiver. But also 2 others: Fitbit Surge and TomTom Runner. In every case other watches draw better route and have similar distance when Fenix 3 was always off (sometimes few hundred meters).

The result was that I was running and constantly watching out to avoid trees, tall buildings… Something that I was never thinking as a owner of Forerunner 305 or 310XT.

Crappy GPS performance of the watch was not only my problem, until this day on official Garmin forum there’s a thread about this topic. Almost 300 sites of complaints!

I think in the meantime Garmin realized that the problem is bigger than they thought and sadly it cannot be solved with any firmware fix. So they have decided to roll out a foot pod support for distance while using GPS. Quick story short: the GPS will only track the route, food pod will be used to measure distance and pace. It was released first as a beta firmware. That could work since foot pod is actually the most accurate way to measure distance. Assuming of course it’s correctly calibrated. Which mean I have to calibrate it on straight route, without any tall objects. And this was already a problem. The automatic calibration never triggered. So I calibrated it myself with the Fellrnr foot pod calibration tool.

fenix3_familyshot

The distance was in theory measured correctly. Then another problem occurred: the pace was not showed correctly. Sometimes it was shown from the foot pod, sometimes from GPS, and sometimes it just hangs on a random number. Next beta update. Bummer. Doesn’t work. Next beta update, the training calendar is broken. Next, they fixed the training calendar, but pace is still not working. Next beta update, they are claiming the foot pod auto calibration is fixed but it doesn’t work for me.

At that point I said to myself enough! It’s a premium watch for about $500. It supposed to work for god sake. I know it was beta, but I’ve decided for it because the watch wasn’t working correctly in the first place. I’ve decided to sold it and forget. It was an expensive watch so it supposed to be the top in every aspect. And with Fenix 3 even my old Forerunner 305 which cost now like $50 gives me more accurate distance measured. And has no software glitches:)! Even cheap watches like TomTom Runner or Forerunner 220 have got better performance.

For the money I’ve got I have bought the Polar V800 HR + polar foot pod (and there was some bucks left). Working like a charm from my the first run (it has it’s own problems but that’s a story for another post). Sure V800 don’t have all the cool features of Fenix 3 but it has the most important advantage. It just works!

PS I know after a while many of the Fenix 3 initial bugs were fixed, also Garmin has shipped a huge 6.90 update with many new features. But they will sadly never fix the GPS accuracy since it’s a hardware problem. With all the features it got, if the most basic and important function is broken, it will always be broken.

PPS After a while I’ve decided to go back to Garmin ecosystem (I really like Garmin Connect and all it’s features) with Forerunner 920XT. I didn’t experienced any problem of Fenix 3 in that device. In fact i think it’s the best watch I’ve ever had. Here is my detailed review of it!

PPPS Some of my runs with Fenix 3 (sadly I lost the 310XT comparison files:/).

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/881956337
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/877212849
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/872775184
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/879288481
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/875778659
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/886917412
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/885918949

18 comments

  • How do you know Fenix 3 GPS accuracy can not be fixed? It is official Garmin position in this case? Can you prove it? Thanks! I am thinking about to sold my f3 aswell. It is kind of joke with this GPS accuracy… :/

  • Hi. As much as i know, the garmin 920xt has the same gps chipset as fenix 3. So how you explain the fact that you do not have the same gps accuracy problems with 920xt? Best regards!

    • Hi! It’s not only the chipset that’s important. I think equally, or even more, important is the antenna. If you investigate Fellrnr GPS accuracy table (http://fellrnr.com/wiki/GPS_Accuracy) you can see clearly that the best accuracy have the watches with bulky antenna (V800, Ambit3,2, 910XT). They all have the SiRFstar but the accuracy is slightly different. Also with SiRFStar chipset they are some that have accuracy even worse than MediaTek chipsets (Polar RC3, TomTom Cardio Runner). So it’s a combination of those factors. Additionally I would say software can also do much. Like e.g. the accuracy of Garmin Forerunner 620 after release was terrible and was fixed with firmware updates. Sadly it didn’t happened with Fenix 3. So I assume it’s a antenna design flaw in case of Fenix 3.

    • Just out of curiosity. Do you have a source that Fenix 3 and 920XT have the same chipset? I only found that they are both Mediatek and 920XT rely on MT3333 model. Sadly didn’t find the exact chipset version of Fenix 3.

      • I’ve done a more thorough examination before (with a hexview), but here’s a simple proof of the GPS chipset the F3 uses:

        user@vax:~/temp$ wget http://download.garmin.com/software/GPSChipsetTypeM5_300.gcd
        –2016-12-01 09:22:25– http://download.garmin.com/software/GPSChipsetTypeM5_300.gcd
        Resolving download.garmin.com (download.garmin.com)… 95.101.142.9, 104.84.152.40
        Connecting to download.garmin.com (download.garmin.com)|95.101.142.9|:80… connected.
        HTTP request sent, awaiting response… 200 OK
        Length: 554116 (541K) [text/plain]
        Saving to: `GPSChipsetTypeM5_300.gcd’

        100%[======================================>] 554,116 –.-K/s in 0.1s

        2016-12-01 09:22:26 (4.77 MB/s) – `GPSChipsetTypeM5_300.gcd’ saved [554116/554116]

        user@vax:~/temp$ strings GPSChipsetTypeM5_300.gcd | grep MT3
        MT3333_DSP_A176_F008
        MT3333

  • Hi again and thanks for the replay! I have the watch Spoq A-rival S100 that have also SIRFstar. For me this 100€ watch have much better gps accuracy than my fenix 3.
    I would like to know your opinion about the intensity of vibration alerts among polar v800 and garmin 920xt. I do several workouts based in heart rate frequency and i need a watch with good vibration alerts and also the best gps accuracy possible. Generally i see the runners very disappointing with vibration alerts of polar v800 and garmin 920xt. How you compare this feature among fenix 3, polar v800 and 920xt? Best regards.

  • The vibration on Fenix 3 is great. On 920XT slightly weaker but on acceptable level in my opinion (never miss an alert with it). The vibration on Polar V800 is significantly weaker. During training they are hardly noticeable. While following training plans with Polar I was mostly relying on sound alerts.

    I don’t know it’s important for you but I think it’s worth mentioning. Newer Garmin watches (including Fenix 3, but without 920XT) can trigger audio alerts (including heart rate) on your phone. I run often with headphones and I value this option very much. I use this with Garmin 735XT that I’m testing right now.

    • Many thanks again! Concerning audio alerts in the phone i don´t have interest because i run without mobilephone and music because security reasons! When you will release your garmin 735xt review? Best regards.

      • You’re welcome! I plan to release it in about 2 weeks. I will definitely check the vibration alert strength:).

        • Hi! My bigest doubt at this moment is if i purchase a foot pod to work in fenix 3 or return it and purchase the 920xt!? I like the garmin connect app interface and need a watch with great gps accuracy and vibration alerts. In this scenario, garmin 920xt will be a good choice, i think! Have a nice weekend.

          • I’ve tried it with Fenix 3 and foot pod and it didn’t worked well. But it was a year ago when the foot pod as speed/distance source + autocalibration was not working correctly. Now it may be fixed since the dev team made a big progress with bugfixing the watch. But you could never say it’s a watch with great GPS.

            As for now the only watch I could recommend is 920XT. From my initial tests the 735XT looks also promising when it comes to GPS accuracy. But I could say more once I will be done with my test.

  • Hi. After some days thinking and thinking, i decided return my fenix 3 and buy the 920xt. I hope sincerly, the 920xt don’t have the same gps issues of the fenix 3. Best regards and thanks for your help and feedback.

    • I hope you will be happy with the new watch. I’ve done the same a year ago (having in the meantime the Polar V800) and I’m quite happy with the exchange. Just one thing that you should keep in mind. Both 920XT and Fenix 3 are already almost 2 years old. The ConnectIQ 1.X used on them has reached the support life cycle (here more about it: https://developer.garmin.com/connect-iq/compatible-devices/, they are now only 2 watches witch CIQ 2 – Vivoactive HR and 735XT). There are rumors that newer version will be announced on CES in January 2017. Somebody even say they will be released on Christmas. Who knows:). But on the other hand you can buy the 920XT now for $199 – insane deal if you ask me!

  • Well… In europe its impossible buy the garmin forerunner 920xt for 199$. Good price for american citizens!

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