I purchased a used Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire smartwatch a few months back, and while it does seem to have an outsized influence on how I now live my life, it doesn’t run it. Let’s just say that it helpfully nudges me in the right direction on a daily basis. And, although begrudgingly, I am becoming a dedicated smartwatch wearer.
For a long time, I had successfully resisted purchasing an Apple Watch. I even gave one a test run, and just could never figure out why I would need it. The icons and face were too small; it was not geared toward fitness; and I frankly did not know how to use it in a way that made it indispensable to my everyday life. My wife, on the other hand, loves her Apple Watch and adapted to it quickly and effortlessly.
So, when a buddy offered to sell me his used Garmin Fenix 6X at first I balked. “It’s just another Apple Watch,” was what I told myself. He was offering it at such a good price, however, that I decided to give it a test run. (The newer version Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar sells for about $999.00. I bought my used 6X Sapphire — non-solar — for $300.)
I ended up buying it shortly thereafter, fighting off dark thoughts of never taking it off again. You might be asking yourself why I felt that way. Well, I will tell you.
Below are the Garmin Fenix 6X’s functions that made it seem like a once-missing part of my life had finally been found after I had donned it for the first time. Almost all of these functions basically revolve around fitness training and health/lifestyle tracking, which, for me, is the watch’s primary purpose. The Garmin’s focus on this fitness functionality makes it superior to the Apple Watch in my view and a tool that I no longer want to live without.
Firefighters are notoriously bad at getting decent sleep. Every third night, we are woken up throughout the night by alarms and lights calling us to some emergency. We all know this, but what we do not always realize is that our overall sleep quality is affected by this lifestyle. My Garmin smartwatch has unfortunately driven this point home by telling me that my sleep is, at best, usually “Fair,” and often “Poor.” Rarely do I get a “Good” night of sleep, and never once has it been graded “Excellent” by my watch. That even goes for post-shift nights, when I often sleep for about 10.5 hours to make up for bad sleep at the fire station.
The Garmin Fenix series of watches uses an optical heart rate sensor to measure heart rate and heart rate variability. It combines this with data from an accelerometer to determine when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and what level of sleep you are in throughout the night (deep, light, REM, etc). I am not convinced that the measurement is always spot-on in measuring my sleep duration, but it is mostly very accurate as far as I can tell (based on looking at the clock and noting when I am up for fire station calls, for example).
While I often grouse at my watch for informing me of my poor sleep scores, it has been helpful in alerting me to the fact that I need to do better in taking care of my sleeping habits.
The watch measures all of my workouts, including strength training reps and sets, swimming in open water and pools, biking indoors and out, running outside and on treadmills, and really anything else I choose to do. It also makes this easy through its assortment of buttons that start/stop time, begin/end sets, log weights lifted, etcetera. This has been the functionality I have most appreciated, as I am getting a continuing log of my fitness routine through the Garmin Connect application (it’s free with the watch). The app keeps a continuous log and also offers a training status program that tells me if I am having “productive” workouts, or simply “maintaining,” and offers advice on what to add to my routine to enhance the training. For example, I hardly ever did long low aerobic (slow) runs before buying the watch, but have since added them (and love them), based on guidance from the watch’s trainer function.
Before I bought the Garmin smartwatch, I never really paid attention to my hydration beyond vague and imprecise reminders to myself to “drink more water.” However, with the Connect app, I can manually enter my daily consumption of water as I go throughout the day, which allows me to ensure that I am hydrating enough. It seems like a simple thing, but more days than not, I am playing catch-up in hydration, and would surely be under-hydrated if I did not have the watch and app to prompt me.
I used to think that people who tracked their steps were kind of silly in feeling compelled to “get those steps in.” However, now that mine are tracked daily, I sometimes find myself going for evening walks or simply getting off the couch because my step count is low (if I skipped running that day, for example). In other words, the step counter is simply prodding me to move more, which is a good thing. It is also a useful tool in illustrating how a day was either a busy one (13,000-plus steps) or a lazy rest and recovery day (anything under 9,000 steps). This might not seem like critical information, but it adds to an overall awareness of one’s own lifestyle and routine, which I enjoy.
The Garmin smartwatch’s optical wrist monitor continuously measures my heart rate. This allows me to know, for example, that my resting heart rate of 43 is not bradycardia and something to worry about, but rather a result of good aerobic health. It also measures my stress level throughout the day, which I suppose is good to know (not that I can do a lot to change it). It also measures peak and average heart rates during my workouts, which I will discuss further below.
In addition to heart rate, the Fenix 6X also measures my average respirations. If I choose to enable it, it also has a useful wrist-based pulse oximeter that will read my blood oxygen saturation. However, that function drains a decent amount of battery, apparently, so I don’t use it.
While I am not a “dieter,” in terms of tracking and limiting my daily caloric intake, I do try to eat intelligently and with a general awareness of my caloric intake and consumption. The Garmin watch has been helpful in that by letting me know exactly how many calories I am burning every day. On a particularly busy shift day, for example, that consumption goes way up, and I thus know that I actually need to pound those three slices of pizza at 3 o’clock in the morning after returning from a working fire. This is not vital information for my life, but it has given me a better awareness of my overall lifestyle, diet, and health.
The Garmin Connect app offers a virtual trainer that uses data collected during all workouts to provide a regular training status update. The trainer takes into account VO2 Max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise), workout “intensity minutes,” load focus (anaerobic, high aerobic, and low aerobic), and the overall training effect in terms of improving, maintaining, or decreasing fitness. These are all completely unnecessary things to know if you are able to push yourself using your internal drive to improve your fitness. However, once you start tracking them, they are great data to have at your fingertips. As I noted above, I would not have thought that adding slower and longer runs to my workouts would be beneficial, but they have been. The watch has kept me from going all out in every single workout and has assisted me in building in a better variety of (especially low aerobic) workouts.
Finally, the Garmin smartwatch acts like an Apple Watch in the way that it shows me text messages, phone calls, and other notifications on my wrist. While I do not necessarily need this, it is helpful to glance at my watch while in a meeting, for example, and know that the email or text I just received does or does not require immediate attention. Again, this is not critical but is convenient and generally helpful.
I am not a shill for the Garmin line of smartwatches (they are not, for example, paying me to write this review or providing me anything in exchange), and I would be remiss if I did not mention the things about the watch that I don’t necessarily love. For one, the watch’s band looks kind of meh and the options to switch it out are limited. A wider variety of options would be nice. Nevertheless, the double retaining bands for the excess band length are sturdy and stay in place well.
The Garmin smartwatch also has a pretty large face, which might turn some people off, but which does not necessarily bother me. It allows space for a lot of data to be presented, which I like. Still, if you are looking to button a nice shirt sleeve cuff over a fashionable wrist-worn timepiece, this is not the watch for you.
Finally, the watch’s battery must be recharged using a cord, similar to the Apple Watch, and it runs down every couple of weeks (at least in the way I use it). That means, once in a while I actually have to take it off, and let it charge for about an hour, to get it back to 100 percent charge. That might not seem too cumbersome — and really, it is not — but it requires taking off my watch for an hour. What about my step count? My heart rate? My notifications? And who or what is going to tell me to “Move!” Clearly, in other words, I have let this watch start to run my life (sort of).
Speaking of, it’s time to move!