Garmin Fenix 2 vs. Forerunner 620

Side by Side SeasideI have a feeling this will be a very popular post, because there’s a lot of people wondering. Some people are considering an upgrade from an existing unit, and others are sitting on a Forerunner 620, wondering if it’s worth it.  This comparison will hopefully serve to give you more information about which watch you hope to select.  I have a feeling most people have already made up their mind and are just looking for one more teensy rationalization to sway them one way or another.

I originally purchased a Garmin Forerunner 610 after my heart attack, in an effort to keep track of my heart rate on my rehabilitation.  I then got seduced by the Forerunner 620, with it’s light weight and “color” screen and connectability.  But then the Fenix 2 came out and. . .well. I realize that my blog is all about making realistic choices, and me talking about a combination of watches that cost over $1000 is not realistic for most.  To be transparent, REI has one of the most wondrous return/exchange policies, so I’ve been stepping through them.  The 610 was traded for the 620, and I picked up the Fenix 2 to compare it to the 620 before making a decision.  But in any case, on with the review!

Day to Day

This section is going to focus on the day to day of the watch, meaning reading the time, customizing it to your preference, and navigating through the user interface.

Design

It’s a love it or hate it here.  The Fenix 2 is tactical and burly, with a matte finish, mineral glass front, and a burly bezel with a Darth Vader accent.  Everything about the watch screams durability.  Unfortunately, it also screams weight and bulk.  The weight, at 83 grams, is on par with any outdoor watch.  Casio’s latest ProTrek is listed at 73 grams.  The Suunto Ambit 2 is a doughty 93 grams.  So it’s right in the pocket.

While you will notice the weight immediately upon putting on the watch, it pretty much disappears as you get used to wearing it.  The thing that you don’t get used to is the thickness of the watch.  There’s no getting around it; it’s big.  The good news is that the glass is well protected via the high and attractive bezel, and the finish is durable for the last month or so I’ve been wearing it.  It’s good stuff.  But I can’t help but notice how high this thing rises off my wrist whenever I look at it.

Contrast the Forerunner 620, which is diametrically opposed to the styling of the Fenix 2.  The styling is much more fitness-oriented, with a lightweight plastic case, and a touchscreen.  The band is more lightweight, with colorful accents, and the straps are mounted much more conventionally.  It’s almost half the weight of the Fenix 2 at 44 grams, which feels whisper light in comparison.  It’s all but invisible during a workout.

But that weight savings comes at a cost.  The plastic of the casing feels, for lack of a better word. . .cheap.  It’s a combination of the light weight and shiny appearance; it looks like it shares some kinship with cheap toys in Chinatown.  Meanwhile, the bezel to protect that fancy touchscreen is nearly non-existent.  It looks to be about the thickness of a human hair.  Granted, this watch will most likely not see the amount of roughness that the Fenix 2 will, but I’d rather something be overbuilt and well-protected. . .especially if it costs as much as it does (and the same price as the well protected Fenix 2).

In the end, the features will most likely determine which you like better, and not the style.  Or not, I don’t know who you are.  Me, I wish I had the size and weight factor of the Forerunner 620 with the materials and design of the the Fenix 2.  Or a unicorn with saddlebags full of gold…you know, as long as I’m dreaming.

Reading the time

For all the bells and whistles either of these watches has, this is probably the feature you’ll use the most.  I’m sure there are those people that only throw on their fitness watch when the exercise, preferring their Tag Heurs for nights out on the town.  But I like wearing my techie watches out and about, so I am ever at the ready for exercise. The Garmin Forerunner 620 has the option of either a standard or reverse contrast screen.  You’ve also got a “color” screen.  That’s the second time I’ve put color in quotations.  To call this screen a color screen is a bit of a farce.  They even tease you with stickers that are bright and beautiful on the face of the watch as you unbox it.  But it’s all a lie.  As another reviewer put it, you’ve got in your hands a screen equivalent to a 1990′s Palm Pilot.

With that said, the watch face is easy to read. With the Fenix 2, you’ve got a monochrome screen that is permanently on reverse contrast, which is white numbers on a black face.  I’m sure it falls in line with the “tactical” look, as this watch is “murdered out” with only a few sweet red highlights.  I haven’t had any difficulty reading the time, although I know some reviewers have.  This is the first watch I’ve had with the reverse contrast, and the learning curve wasn’t too difficult for me.

Comparing the two, there’s pluses and minuses to both.  The ability to choose between a normal or reverse contrast screen on the 620 negates any positive the Fenix 2 gains.  But let’s look at the whole picture.  For the purposes of this discussion, I altered the Fenix 2′s time display to mimic the Forerunner 620′s as much as possible.  We’ll talk more about the customization options later, but I promise I will.  They are pretty sweet.

IMG_6399

For those who have never seen either watch, the Fenix 2 is on your left, and the Forerunner 620 is on your right.  I apologize for the poor quality of the photo.  I guess I could pull out my real camera and my polarizing filter. . .but that wouldn’t be very realistic, would it?  You can see from the photo (you can, can’t you?) that the screen on the Fenix 2 is noticeably larger.  But you’ll notice the numbers on the 620 are more rounded and nicer.  Looking even closer, I noticed that the screen resolution on the 620 appears to better, explaining the ability to make nicer numbers.  What does all this mean?  It’s all up to you and what you think.   The 620 feels more refined, the Fenix 2 feels more tactical and rugged.  Who are you?

For comparison’s sake, I’ve included a pic of the Forerunner screen on normal contrast.  I don’t have a preference, although you may.

Backlight Ho!

The backlights do an excellent job of overcoming any problems with visibility.  You’ll also notice that you can see some color on the 620 for the first time ever.  I wish it looked that good for real.   I just picked up the box for the Forerunner 620, and noticed they made glossy appliques to the matte finish of the box to highlight how colorful the screen is.  The humanity.

Alt Viewing Angle

And here’s an alternate viewing angle.  This photo would suggest that the Forerunner is better, but I think that’s most likely due to the background.  But if it’s the justification that drives you in one direction or another. . .

Clock Features

In addition to all the data available during your workouts, you also have access to normal features on a sport watch: Alarm Clock, Timer, Stopwatch, and Alternate Time Zones.  Accessing them aren’t the easiest; you have to hold down the Menu button until the menu appears, and then you scroll down to Clock.  Selecting that gives you access to the options.

The Alarm Clock is well implemented, with the option to assign either Tone, Vibration or Both as the alert.  You also have the option to have the backlight illuminate when the alarm goes off.  When you add an alarm, after assigning the time, you then have the option to assign whether the alarm is going to happen Once, Daily, or Weekdays.  You can create several alarms; I stopped adding at 6, because I didn’t want to spend my time deleting them.

The timer is equally as well designed, with the standard options in terms of set, start, and reset.  In addition to choosing your alert preference, as with the alarm, you can also choose to have the timer restart automatically, which would be nice for interval training and any other repetitive timing scenarios.

The Stopwatch is probably the least well implemented, which is too bad, because that’s the one that folks may use the most.  Pressing the red button starts the stopwatch, and you get the standard count up, in a large center display, and smaller display at the top of the watch.  It all works you’d expect, except that at a little over 4 seconds into your count, you lose the 10ths and 100ths numbers.  The watch is still counting them; you just can’t see them.  It’s a minor point, but one that surprises me each time it happens.  It baffles me why they would reinvent the wheel.

The Lap feature is another cause for consternation.  To record a lap, I intuitively hit the “Lap” button on the lower right.  It’s the button that records a lap in every mode except for Swim.  But in this feature, the “Lap” button takes you back up a level in the menu.  It’s true, that’s the way it works on every other level of the menu. But the fact is, we’re not in the menu; we’re in the stopwatch.  To record a lap, you have to scroll down using the lower left button to highlight “Lap”, and then press the upper right button to select the lap.  The main display of the counter will continue counting up, while the secondary display above the main will reset to zero and begin counting up, allowing you to track your current lap and the total elapsed time at the same time.  You can continue to track laps in this manner by just hitting the upper right button.  To stop the watch, you have to scroll back to “Stop” and then use the upper right button to select that option.

If it sounds clunky, that’s because it is.  I could see the flow of how the designers thought it would work, but alas, it’s not working for me.  I don’t think the stopwatch really would be helpful for anyone wanting to do anything athletic.  Which is a shame, because everything else about this watch is for athletics.

In contrast, the Forerunner 620 has…an alarm clock.  It’s true, you can put the watch in indoor mode, which allows you to use it as a stopwatch. . .although you then have to discard the activity you just created.  You can probably figure out a workaround for the timer feature as well.  But the reality is that the Forerunner 620 is sorely lacking in these features found in a $10 sport watch.

Customizations

This sections refers only to the customizations on the Time portion of the watch itself.  We will cover customization in the only activity section that applies: running. In this regard, the Fenix 2 is a wealth of options.  I’m actually feeling a bit tired as I contemplate cataloging and representing them all to you.  It’s a moot point; just trust me when I say you have multiple choices on how you want your screen to look.

Time Style – 5 choices

Seconds Style – 11 choices

Additional Data – 10 choices

Data Icons – 2 choices (on or off)

My math is a little rusty, but that means you have 1100 different combinations that you can choose in terms of how you want your data represented.  You could go ultra minimalist where it only shows the hour.  Or you could make it ultra informational, with the entire time showing like a war clock with the battery life, time of sunrise/sunset (whichever one is sooner) and seconds slowly filling the perimeter of the screen.

In comparison, the 620 has next-to-no customizations.  You can adjust the contrast between normal and reverse, and you can choose the theme.  The theme changes the colors of various icons, like the battery icon.   Of course, refer back to what I think of the “color” screen.

User Interface

I’ve already wrote extensively about my experiences with the Fenix 2 UI in my review on this site.  So this section will mostly be a comparison to  the Forerunner 620.

The Forerunner’s UI works with the buttons and the touchscreen to provide a good experience.  From Watch mode (where the watch displays the time, and is locked to any other function) you use the buttons to either turn on the backlight or activate wifi sync.  The touchscreen serves as the unlock button.  To get the watch ready for running, you simply click any button besides the Connect button and then tap the screen.

Once you wake up the watch, you now use the touchscreen to navigate through the various menus, using the two buttons alongside the screen, as well as tapping the screen.  The touchscreen is responsive, and I was able to easily use my gloves to operate the screen.  But do you really need a touchscreen?

In general, the menu system is very similar to the Fenix 2.  You have an option on the screen; to select it, you tap the item on the screen.  To scroll, you tap the top or the bottom of the screen.  When the item you want is on the screen.  It’s fairly intuitive, but to me, it’s less intuitive than button presses.  The button provides a tactile response and feedback that you don’t get from the screen.  Touchscreens are great for things like smartphones, where you have a lot of real estate to make different selections.  But here, it feels a bit like overkill.  I prefer the buttons on my Fenix.

Connectivity (outside activity)

In this regard, the Forerunner 620 is the clear winner.  It’s got all the Bluetooth features that the Fenix 2 has, and adds wifi capabilities for both firmware updates and activity synching.  While I find that the most reliable and fastest connection is the USB cable for both watches; the multitude of options available for the Forerunner make it very convenient.

On the Run

The only place we can compare these two watches is in how they handle running, as that’s pretty much the only thing the Forerunner is about; heck, it’s in the name, Fore-RUNNER.  As you may expect, the Fenix 2 suffers from being a Jack of All Trades, and the Forerunner excels as an expert.

Options

In terms of setup,  both watches are mostly evenly matched.  The Garmin has an advantage in that it has access to more sensors: namely, the barometric and temp sensors and the compass.  The ForeRunner has none of these.  The Fenix 2 also has the ability to add many, many pages of data (I got bored of pushing buttons around 13…hmm, maybe I should have added one more to avoid bad luck).  Each one of those pages can have 4 data fields.  So if you’re a data head, you could literally see every bit of data this watch has to offer at any point on a workout.

In contrast, you’re limited to 4 pages of customizable data, not including Run Dynamics and Virtual Partner.  Given that 4 fields of data are available per customizable page, that’s 16 points of data you can monitor.  Some would argue that’s enough. . .

The Forerunner is a clear winner when it comes to customizing each screen.  The touchscreen interface shines in this scenario, as you can simply hold your finger on the field that you’d like to modify.  After a moment, the menu of available fields comes up, and you can pick which field you’d prefer, and BAM.  It’s new!  You can’t adjust the number of fields so easily, but the fact that you can adjust the fields on the fly is very handy.  It even works mid-workout, so if you have the dexterity and awareness to adjust your watch safely, you’re all set.

Meanwhile, the Fenix 2′s interface is a bit clunkier.  From the Settings -> Activity Menu, you select Data Pages.  From there, you have to select the page you’d like to change (hopefully, you remember).  Once you’ve got the page, you’re treated to a readout of what’s on the page you’ve selected.  You must then select Edit, and the pick which field you’d like to edit.  It’s eons less intuitive, and it takes much longer to complete.  But it is available to adjust mid-workout.

One important feature that’s missing from the Fenix 2 is the ability to import the Training Calendar from Garmin Connect.  Initially, I was uploading my workouts to my Forerunner 620, until I discovered that the 620 only allows 10 workouts to be placed in memory.  I have a lot of variety, so that limitation seemed annoying and arbitrary.  The Training Calendar at Garmin Connect allows you to schedule different workouts on each day.  When you sync, it takes care of the tedium of loading and unloading your workouts over time.  It’s a feature that I’ve been missing lately on my Fenix 2.  I have since moved to my computer calendar to schedule my workouts.  It’s a bit tedious to have to place a workout on my calendar, and then set it up on my watch too, although it’s easier to make sure I don’t schedule any workouts over important dates.  But I do miss it.

Speaking of workouts, transferring workouts from your phone is always a bit of hit or miss with both devices.  Transferring one workout usually goes smoothly, but I often transfer my workouts for the week in one sitting.  If you want to send 3 workouts, you need to wait for the sync process to complete for the first workout before you hit sync for the next one.  That may seem self-explanatory, but you’d think the operations might queue themselves up. . .but no.  In general, I’ve found that both watches are much quicker and more stable when you use the USB cable to move workouts around.  With that said, if you’re moving one workout, they both work equally well over Bluetooth.

As a final note, the Fenix 2 does not support the post-activity Training Records that the Forerunner 620 has.  It’s a minor point, and honestly, my TR were often a scrambled mass, as I would use my watch to track my hikes, bikes and runs.  I’d have to constantly go into the website and reset them.  Once again,  the Forerunner excels at just being a running watch.  But with that said, I’d love to see Garmin incorporate the Training Records for each of the sports in the Fenix 2.

During the activity

During a run, I like to check my pace to make sure I don’t get too excited in the beginning.  I like to see my heart rate so I can gauge how I’m feeling, and I like to see the time elapsed.  I tend to scroll through my fields, too.  Sometimes I want a lot of data, sometimes I just want to see my pace and how much longer I have to try and maintain it.

There’s no arguing here: the higher resolution screen of the Forerunner provides a much better reading experience.

Side by Side during Activity

As you can see, the Fenix numbers are a tad bit shorter, and while lot skinnier.  While it lends itself a digi-tacti-cool vibe, it makes it harder to read.  The wider (dare I say voluptuous?) numbers on the Forerunner are easier to make out.

The titles for the data fields are much easier to read on the Forerunner as well.  The Fenix 2 relies heavily on abbreviations due to the limited pixel area; meanwhile, the Forerunner can use whole words, meaning one less thing you have to decipher as you’re bouncing down the trail.  I’ve used 4 fields as an example, but the visibility on the Forerunner only increases with fewer fields.

Side by Side

This is a comparison shot of two data fields.  You can see that the Fenix 2 does not have enough space to allow the full text of “Cool Down Until Lap Press” to be visible.  The Forerunner 620, meanwhile, has room for the whole text, and is also more readable.

The differences are evident when you are sitting in your chair looking at this site.  Now imagine you’re running down the trail/road, and need to see how you’re doing.  While the Fenix 2 is not unreadable, it is certainly more difficult.  It’s true, you’ll know what data is where because you’re the one that picked the fields, so readability isn’t as critical for some as others.  But for ardent racers who depend on pace or other data to help them do the strategery to victory, this may be much more critical.  For me, I’m barely moving above walking speed so it doesn’t matter as much.

The UI for both watches is fairly simple.  On the Fenix 2, the buttons (clockwise, starting at the 12:00 position) allow you to stop/start, lap/advance your workout, scroll up/down through data screens, and use the backlight.  Holding the L center button allows you to access the menus.  On the Forerunner, the buttons (in the same order) allow you to stop/start, lap/advance, view the time screen, and backlight.  Tapping the center of the touch screen allows you to advance the data screens, while tapping the return arrow on the left side of the screen reverses you through the data screens.  Tapping the right side of the screen gives you access to the menus.  Both ways are intuitive, and neither has an advantage.  Maybe a slight edge to the Forerunner, because the touchscreen is a much larger target.  But I’m splitting hairs.

Connectivity (during the run)

One of the few drawbacks to the Fenix 2 is its inability to connect via ANT+ and Bluetooth at the same time.  It means that you can’t use your HRM and broadcast LiveTrack at the same time, which the Forerunner 620 can do without taking a breath.

My rationalization is LiveTrack depends on your phone having signal.  I use LiveTrack to let my loved ones know where I am.  When my phone has signal, I can use something like RoadID which provides the tracking for folks you’d like to let know.  It’s true, you don’t get to broadcast all your metrics to folks, but honestly, I don’t mind people not seeing how slow I go.  For an added measure of safety, RoadID also has a Stationary Alert feature in case you stop without meaning to stop.  It’s true, you lose the ability to transmit your metrics, but I don’t really want people to watch how slow I run.

When I go camping, hiking, or for a long trail run, I lose phone signal, thus rendering LiveTrack and RoadID worthless.  In these scenarios, only a PLB would help.

Notifications

Both watches have the same options (tone, vibration, none) so why write a section on this?  Because it’s a very noticeable difference.  The Forerunner 620 has a tone and vibration that’s impossible to miss.  There have been times when I’ve been running in a noisy environment, listening to music, and I’ve still heard the tones that count down approaching a change in my workout.  Meanwhile, there have been times during a workout in a quiet environment where I’ve almost missed the vibration alert on the Fenix 2, even when I was expecting it.  I use a lot of custom workouts, so I noticed this difference a lot.  At least enough that I thought I would mention it.

Battery Life

The Fenix 2 here is the winner.  I’ve run the Forerunner to a dead battery before; no it wasn’t me running an ultra; it was a pub crawl with our local BBC (blackout bicycle club) and the watch died at 5:27 minutes.  I honestly can’t remember if I had LiveTrack on or not (can you blame me?  It was a pub crawl.)  But the sub-6 hour battery life is not going to last for some people’s activities (and probably my first marathon).

Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 has a purported battery life of 16 hours.  I have yet to do an activity that even approaches that level.  DC Rainmaker found a burn time of approximately 15 hours by his testing.  For those of you who want even more burn time, you can enter Ultra Mode, and you get up to 55 hours of burn time.  Note, when you do this mode, you lose a tremendous amount of accuracy, as the recording mode goes from 1 second (or smart) to 60 second.  That’s probably perfect for hiking, but lame for any sort of running or wingsuit action.

And finally, for those of you that can’t stop/won’t stop, you can use a charger to extend the life indefinitely.  Unlike the Forerunner, the Fenix 2 will continue to be useable in all functions while it’s charging.  Please note, I haven’t personally tested any of these limits, but it’s nice to know that I could.  And I plan to, as soon as life lets me disappear into the woods for 55 hours.

Post Run Connectivity

After your run, you want to save it, and then transmit it to the world, right?  Both of these watches offer Bluetooth connectivity which will allow you to transmit them.  The Forerunner has a clear advantage in terms of speed of saving and transfer.

As you can see from the video, the Forerunner is much, much faster.  On an identical workout, the Forerunner saves almost instantly.  Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 takes it’s time.  I feel like the programmers tried to fake you out by making the perimeter tick marks count up fast at first, but it always hangs at the very end as it sorts out the save.

For uploads, it’s even more of a disparity between the two.  The Forerunner 620 automatically connects to your watch and begins uploading.  In this video, you can see it takes a manner of seconds.  In contrast, the Fenix 2, with the data from the same activity takes 3x-5x longer to complete the procedure.  I was unable to capture the total amount of time it took to upload via video.  . . because that would be a really lame video.

First, you have to connect to your phone via Bluetooth, because you can’t have both bluetooth and ANT+ going at the same time . You then have to open the app up in your phone; that’s right, no background uploading.  Once the app has been launched, your Fenix 2 will start uploading to your phone, which takes orders of magnitude longer than the Forerunner 620.  And then you have to wait a bit more as the watch updates GPS data.  When all is said and done, the watch remains in Bluetooth mode, so don’t forget to exit the Sync, lest you lose all that precious battery power.

The Forerunner 620 can also upload directly via wi-fi, so if you didn’t bring your phone with you, it won’t slow down your upload.  In fact, it might even speed it up.

So, in every way, the Forerunner wins the connectivity section hands down.  Between seamless integration with Bluetooth and ANT+ during your activity, to uploading after the run, the Forerunner is much much faster.  With that said, we’re not talking about hours; we’re talking about minutes.  Hard to believe, because I’m still amazed I’ve got a GPS on my wrist.  But that’s me.

Conclusion

Both of these watches are exemplary pieces of GPS technology on your wrist.  Both of these watches are marred by software that is often buggy and spotty.  I can’t help but feel like we’re on the cusp of awesomeness, where screen technology, battery life, firmware, and UI are all going to reach a nexus.  With that said, neither of these watches are that nexus.

The Forerunner 620 is an amazing running watch.  Seamless integration of ANT+ and Bluetooth, Training Calendar and all the other features provide an excellent training tool for athletes.  If you’re going to run, the Forerunner 620 is the clear choice.  If Garmin adds the bike mode that they’ve been alluding to since the start of the year, it’ll add even more awesomness.  But for someone who likes to bike, hike, run and more, the Forerunner 620 offers limited ability.  You can’t pair it with speed/cadence sensors.  The battery life is too short for anything more than a day hike.  And the construction, while sleek and unobtrusive for runs, doesn’t give you a reassuring sense of durability for other endeavors.

Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 would be massive overkill for running.  The burly design is a lot heavier for higher speed endeavors, and maybe that’s not the look you want for every day.  If your sports are just running and biking, you’re better off finding other options.  But if you’re an amateur athlete that likes to dabble in lots of sports, this watch is awesome. I used the swim mode to work on my freestyle vs breaststroke times.  I used the altimeter, compass and a topo map to navigate through some tricky trails in a state park.  In one week, I’ve run, biked, hiked and swam, and I didn’t have to change my watch for any of them.  That alone is incredibly awesome.

It true, because it’s the new kid on the block, the Fenix 2 has been buggy, just as the Forerunner 620 was when it was first released.  The Fenix 2 group has been very good about addressing bugs as they’ve appeared, so I’m confident that the Fenix 2 will soon be sorted.

So, that’s my final verdict.  Fenix 2 for me.  Your results may vary.  And, as always, feel free to leave a comment, let me know you’re enjoying my work.

Garmin Fenix 2 update: Firmware 2.90

Update: 5/11/14

It’s been more than a week since I uploaded 2.90 on my phone, and I’ve noticed a couple of things that I thought I would share

1) The battery issue seems to have sorted itself out.  Before, I was getting weird resets starting at 70% or so.  The battery percentage was much more stable and consistent, lasting appropriate amounts of time with activities.  I’ve not had the chance to try the UltraTrac mode yet though.

2) Activities appear more stable.  I’ve had 4 runs since the update, and no issues.  Granted, that’s not a very good sample size, but there you have it.

More, as it develops.

(Originally published 5/1/14)

Hot of the presses! (Well, it was a couple of days ago)

Changes made from version 2.60 to 2.90:
Added ability to track pool swim rest periods on Garmin Connect.
Added pool swim Drill Logging support.
Improved BLE connectivity.
Improved swim alerts.
Improved workout time duration to count down instead of up.
Fixed potential issue with transfer of workouts from Garmin Connect Mobile.
Fixed potential issue with ANT sensors failing to reconnect.
Fixed potential issue with battery drain.

 

I’ve uploaded it into my watch, I’ll let you all know how it goes!

Ebay Adventures: A Primer for the Amateur Outdoor Enthusiast

I started a new section called Ebay Adventures.  It’s an easy way to group all the items I get off Ebay.  As a dad and husband, I rarely get to buy new gear, so Craigslist and Ebay are great resources.  The trick is knowing how to sniff out the good deals.  Craigslist should be called Caveat Emptor, so we’ll avoid that.  Instead, this post will focus on Ebay, and how I manage to score some pretty great deals.  This post assumes a basic knowledge of Ebay. . .so learn about it if you don’t know about it.  This article also assumes that you are familiar with the excellent Ebay app for the iPhone.  I’m assuming the Android version operates in a similar fashion.  So download it.

Step 1 - Knowing What You Want

I highly recommend NOT window shopping on Ebay.  There’s no substitute for inspecting something in person.  Whenever I disregard this advice, I find myself with something that wasn’t what I expected.  So heed my warning: don’t window shop on Ebay.

With that said, how do you figure out what you want?  The first step is the internet.  If you’re online reading this, you’ve most likely discovered the internet.  And you’ve most likely realized you now want/need a new hydration setup, a new backpack, or a new whatever.  Your first step is to research what’s available.  Look for reviews. Search for “best hydration setups” and you’ll get a myriad of options.  Start looking.

Once you’ve found something that looked interesting, you want to try and get your hands on it to inspect it in person.  Your local retailer is often helpful.  I go to my local REI or other outdoor purveyor and see if they have what I’m interested in, or a similar model.  Pick it up, smell it, try it on, do what you need to do.  Avoid licking the item, if you can.  The only thing I would recommend you NOT do is accost an employee and grill them about the item.  Why?  Because you’re not buying it from them.  I am a huge proponent of small business when I can be, and you’re not going to be buying this from them, at least not right now.  So don’t take up their valuable time.  If you do, buy it from them.

Take note of size, colors, names, and distinguishing features.   What you’ll find is the newest options; what you’ll find on Ebay may be totally different, and you want to be able to recognize the differences.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to get in the store and handle the item.  That’s OK.  You can skip to step 2, but make sure you read Buyer’s Remorse.

Step 2 – The Hunt Begins!

Now that you’ve got your mind on something, your next stop is Ebay.   This part is easy!  Simply enter what you’re looking for into the Search field and buy it, right!  No.  Don’t do that.  Ever.

Your first search will pop up a million options.  Most of them will be Buy It Now options with prices approaching (or greater than) retail.  That’s not why we are here.  If you’re going to buy retail, go to your local shop, or Amazon.  We are here looking for a bargain.

Sunglasses for half off!Your best bets are to find something that is used and being sold on auction or Best Offer.  You’ll occasionally find something sold at Buy It Now; I just bought a pair of sunglasses at half off with free shipping.   Score!  But in general, you want to avoid it.  Make sure you’re comfortable with something that’s used.  Something you put in your mouth might make you squeamish, like water bottles or CamelBaks.  Sometimes you’re not sure about buying socks or underwear.  I’m pretty open to most things, as I believe in the power of hot water, soap, and washing machines/dishwashers.  You have to decide your own comfort level.  Be advised, the lower your squeamishness, the lower the price.

Use the Ebay search tools to select Condition: Used, and Format: Auction.  This should narrow your choices down.  And now you’ll likely be confronted by either a) nothing that looks good, or b) something interesting.  If nothing is there, save your search.  Every good hunter will tell you that persistence is the key, so you need to have the ability to check on this search quickly and easily. Think of it like a hunter checking his trap line.  The Ebay iPhone app is awesome for this purpose; you can check it easily from wherever you are, and it’ll automatically update with the latest items, saving you valuable time when searching.  To get the best bargains, look for something that’s the previous season’s model.   You should be educated as to photo 2-2the differences, so you don’t get surprised by a missing feature.  But if you’re knowledgeable, you can save some money.  I bought a hydration vest that was used once or twice for 1/3 of retail price; it was no longer in production, and it was missing the bladder.  But internet research showed the design was sound, and that my Camelbak bladder would fit just fine.  The new model replacing this one retails for over $100.

So, let’s say you’ve found something interesting.  The first step is to double check the seller and location of the item.  The last thing you want to do is to purchase the item from a seller with negative feedback, located in a foreign country.  I’ve done this before by accident (don’t check Ebay from the bar).  I ended up with a brand new backpack for half price, but it had been purchased by a person in Vietnam with a stolen credit card and drop shipped to me.  I escaped unscathed due to Ebay’s excellent customer service, but your results may vary.

Avoiding international sellers will increase your peace of mind, and decrease the shipping costs, and the amount of time you have to wait to get your item.  Avoid negative sellers like the plague.

With that said, the seller with the low feedback with zero negative feedbacks is your best bet.  That person is a reliable Ebayer, they just don’t buy/sell too often.  This is the person like me.  I have gear that I want to sell, but I don’t do it for a living.  So how do you make sure that they are?  Ask a question!

Contacting the seller is the best way to determine if they are a scammer, or a person just trying to recoup the costs on some gear.  I’m usually polite but concise, and I ask 1-3 questions.

  1. How’s the condition of the item? Ask pertinent questions, depending on what the item is.  Smell, wear, etc.
  2. Why are you selling?

These two questions are short and easy to ask, but you’re not really asking about them.  You’ve hopefully got a good idea of the condition from the photos already.  What you’re really doing is checking on the reliability of the seller.

A good seller has the Ebay App on their phone, and will be notified of your question quickly.  If they are motivated to sell the item, they will respond in short order, and patiently answer your questions.  I never buy something from someone that can’t take the time to answer those questions above.  But be brief; no one wants to type that much on their phone.  Be polite, be concise, and ask more questions later.

If the item looks good, the seller replies, and the price is right. . .

Step 3 – Cue the Chase Music!

Before you even bid, set your max price in your mind.  There’s no suggestion for this.  My only guideline is that I make sure I’m not accidentally paying more than it costs.  You may laugh at this, but with sales that happen locally, and the low prices available on Amazon, I’ve been guilty of this more than once.  So make sure you know how much you’re willing to spend.  And don’t go above it.  It’s too easy to get swept up in the moment and spend too much (remember, don’t Ebay at the bar). One time, I was in such a rush to get my wife a merino coat that I accidentally confirmed a max bid of $1100 instead of $110.  Fortunately, the highest bidder didn’t decide he/she wanted that coat for $600 (Retail was $199).  So, stick to your max price.  But you don’t want to bid yet.

photo 4-2There’s a psychology here.  It’s like the lines for Southwest Airlines.  It’s different now, but they used to just make you stand in line like so much cattle, with no assigned seats or place in line.  But it was a game of chicken.  When you got to the gate early, everyone slowly sat down, eyeing one another.  No one made a move to queue up, because everyone was more comfortable sitting in the chairs.  Until that one schmoe would go up and stand in line, thus compelling everyone else to do it, less they lose their place in line.  I hated that guy.

With Ebay, remind yourself that the person who has the highest bid when the auction ends is the winner.  That may seem obvious, but there’s a trap here; there’s no logic in being the highest bidder until the end.  Leading from the beginning just means that you’re going to encourage other people to bid more and beat you.  You don’t want this to be a competition.  You don’t even want other people to know you’re interested.  You just want them to forget about this item and look at something else.  If someone sees that no one has bid on the item, they are far less likely to bid because they think something is wrong with it.  So don’t bid yet.  Wait for it.

When the time is right, you can bid.  When is that?  It depends on you.  The Ebay app will send you a notification that the item you’ve been watching is close to ending with about 15 minutes left.  Now’s the time to look and see what the price is.  If it’s too high, walk away.  But if it’s low enough, you may as well drop a bid in.

Placing a bid is an art.  You’d like to pick a bid that is more than the current high bid, but less than the total amount you’re willing to spend.  Don’t make your bid obvious; $20 is obvious.  Someone will bid $20.01 at the last minute, and make you feel like a dope because you lost to a penny.  $23.99 is reasonable. There’s a bit of a mind trap here; you can start thinking, “what’s an extra $4?” and exceed your max amount.  But weigh that thought against how much that thing costs retail against how much you can afford to spend.  And then bid.

Hopefully, you are greeted with the words “Congratulations, you are the highest bidder!”.  If not, either break your promise to yourself and bid higher, or move on.  But if you are, don’t pat yourself on your back yet.  All across the world, people are receiving a notification that you’ve just outbid them and are challenging them to a duel.

Step 4 – Do You Bite Your Thumb at Us, Sir?

The final 10 minutes of a bid are a duel.  You’re fighting off the hordes that want the same thing your do.  A coveted piece of gear for less than retail.  You’re also battling your own inner desire to win, which is being held in check by your inner desire to pay rent and buy food.  Don’t get carried away.

Place Bid windowSelect “Place Bid” from the Ebay app and wait.  Within that window you can see the total time remaining and the current bid.  If the current bid is more than the amount you told yourself you would spend, close the phone and go for a walk.  If not, type in your max amount, and wait.

You’re waiting for that time counter to tick down to  7 seconds.  With 7 seconds left, if the max bid is still lower than your max amount, drop that bomb.  And hopefully you win.  Someone’s max amount may be more than yours, but you can’t do anything about it now.

Step 5 – This is the End

Either you’ve won or lost.  If you’ve lost, lament.  I watched a $250 jacket disappear for $75, $3 more than my max bid, because I was helping my wife unload the dishwasher.  She was very kind and let me bitch and moan without making fun of me.  She’s a keeper.

If you’ve won, rejoice!  Pay the seller quickly, and they’ll ship it quickly.  If they don’t ship it, send a message asking for a tracking number.  It’s a polite of asking, “did you ship that or what?”   And when you do receive the item and it’s what you wanted, please leave feedback.  It’s important for buyers and sellers, as it’s the only way we know who’s trustworthy and who isn’t.

Step 6 – Buyers Remorse

Once you receive your item, hopefully, it worked out. But sometimes it doesn’t.  When you receive the item, check it thoroughly.  Many sellers refuse returns, but if they described their item as “excellent used condition” and there’s a gaping hole/tear/non-working zipper that wasn’t spelled out in the description, you can contest it.  Pictures can be misleading, especially colors.  And anything they “forgot” to take a mention or photograph is grounds for violation Ebay’s Moneyback Guarantee, which means you’re entitled to a refund.

If it’s not what you wanted and you feel it wasn’t as described,  you have a small window to return it.  First try and contact the seller.  I’ve worked out many returns just be being polite and straightforward.  People aren’t usually trying to put one over on you; it may have been an honest mistake.  The only sticking point is shipping sometimes, so you have to decide where your line in the sand is.  If you can’t get any communication or resolution directly through the seller, then contact Ebay.  Hopefully, that person isn’t some scammer from a foreign country.  But even if they are, you are entitled to your refund, assuming you return the item.   Keep in mind, Ebay will refund you the price of the item plus original shipping to you. . .but not return shipping.  Them’s the breaks.

But what if it’s as described and you don’t want it?  Maybe it doesn’t fit, or maybe it just feels wrong.  Well, your best bet now is to flip it right around on Ebay.  But you can actually make money, assuming you got a good deal in the first place.  Often times, the best deals I get are from people that didn’t know how to market their item.  Their descriptions or their photos didn’t entice people to purchase the item.  So punch up your listing!  Show picture of it working; if it’s a heart rate monitor, show a pic of the actual screen registering your heart rate.  It’s a small amount of effort with a big return, depending on the item.

Step 7 – Repeat…

At the end of the day, I’m always asking myself if I needed this thing that just showed up on the doorstep.  Thoreau railed about the downfall of stuff, and I have to say, i agree with him.  It sounds ridiculous coming from the author of a gear website, but this obsession with cool new toys is a burden.  So keep this in mind as you Ebay.  This is an ongoing problem, as every purchase creates the need for another purchase.  And every purchase means less room, thus necessitating more sales. But hopefully, you can justify your purchases by using them to do the things you love, and do them better/more/with less work.

I’d love to hear any comments you have! Until then, keep your obsession well-fed, but in check.

Ongoing Garmin Fenix 2 Review: Battery Bug!

UPDATE 4/28/14: Garmin Released Firmware 2.90, which includes some battery fixes.  I’ve got it on my watch now, I’ll update as I get more awareness of how it’s doing.

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Garmin Fenix 2: Firmware 2.60, GPS 3.10

I’m not sure if this problem appeared with 2.60, but I know it’s here now.  It happened the first time after the crash I documented earlier, but there was a lot of chaos happening then, so I didn’t notice.  But I have isolated this as a problem now.

I had just completed a 5 mile run, which took me longer than I care to share (but if you must know).  I then drove home (after saving the activity) and then hopped on my bike and did a short ride to my local cafe to have brunch.  I noticed I had around 62% left.  I was fiddling with my watch, waiting for my omelette to arrive when the screen went blank.

Hmm.  I held down the power button for 15 seconds, but it had no effect.  I was hoping it had locked up, but instead, it was dead.

As soon as I got home, I plugged it into my computer, and it booted up immediately without problems.  The battery charge indicator noted 61%.  I waited a few minutes until it hit 62%, and then I removed it from the charging cable.  I started an activity, and it worked just fine. . .until it suddenly died a few short minutes later.  Plugging it back in to the cable resulted in the same: powering up, and starting charge at 61%.

I noted my issue on the Garmin forums.  I attempted to contact Garmin via their online submission form. . .but it crashed.  My irony meter is now full.

Share if you’ve got similar problems, and especially if you figured out how to fix it.

Ebay Adventures: Nathan TrailMix Hydration Belt review

(Updated 5/11/14  -  Added note re: newer bottle design and caps)

Ebay is a great way to pick up gear.  There’s millions of people who buy gear they don’t use, but aren’t using it as much they thought they would.  I should know; I’ve been guilty of that a thousand times.  But now that I’m older, wiser and have a family to support, I use Ebay to get things that I don’t want to pay for at full price.

I’m a huge proponent of hydration.  I’m also a proponent of gear.  These two elements combine wonderfully in the world of outdoor sports.  Camelbak leads the way, with a host of other options.  When I first started my journey into running, I would head out with a Camelbak Lobo and 100 oz. of water bouncing along on my back.  After my wife pointed out that may be overkill for a 30 minute run/walk, I decided to see if I could go without, and I found that I could.  I soon embraced  the minimalist approach, enjoying the freedom of going light.

But over the past few months, my runs have gradually increased from 3 miles to 5-7 miles, and I’ve found myself dehydrated.  I was doing a run uphill on a warm day, and my stomach started cramping, and I felt like I may have to dash into the bushes. ( When you’re running on the trail, and your feel your sphincter fail. . .) Looking back on it, (and after I chugged a liter of water) I realized I needed to bring some water.  The industry appears divided by everything: what to drink, when to drink, and why to drink it.  On the one hand, you’ve got the risks of dehydration, with problems ranging from reduction in performance to death.  On the other hand, you’ve got the risks of hyponatremia, which mirrors the risks of dehydration.  So where to we turn?

I like to take baby steps, so I decided to find something in the smaller range.  I wanted it to be relatively light, low tech, but with some storage for items I like to bring with me. I decided on a hydration belt.  Notice I said “hydration belt” not “water bearing fanny pack”…but essentially that’s what it is.  Let’s be clear, fanny packs suck.  I had one friend who lamented the day when someone decided that fanny packs were lame.  I told him that there was no such time; fanny packs sucked from inception, at least in the US.  But here I am, about to extol the virtues of my fanny pack.

The Nathan Trailmix appealed to me.  I liked the thought of two smaller bottles than one big bottle; less mass to bounce around, and more balance to stabilize it.  I liked the small pocket in the back for my phone, keys, and what not.  And it reminded me of something a desert Stormtrooper would carry.

Features

Front and Side ViewIt’s got two smaller water bottles.  Each holds 10 oz.  They fit well into your hand, and are slightly curved to allow for a body chugging fit, and a easy grip.  I find it easiest to drink from them holding the concave side up.  The tops open/close by a push/pull system.  More on that later.

Outer Mesh PocketThe pouch in back has 3 compartments.  The front compartment is
stretchy, and is easy to access while running, as it is closed by a velcro flap.  I’ve been keeping my Shot Bloks and gels in that pocket, as it’s easy to get into while running.

Main Pocket with Key LeashThe main compartment in the pouch is a zipper pocket with room for an iPhone 5 in an Otterbox Commuter case, a snack bar, or other similarly sized items.  I squeezed a Clif Builder Bar and my phone in there; there’s not room for much else . The key leash is also in there as well.  The clasp on the key leash fit through the hole in a standard sized key, so no need for a split ring. . .although it would probably make it easier to take on/off the leash.

Inner PocketBehind the main compartment, close to your body is a thin divider, held shut by a velcro patch.  It’s a very thin pocket, made for items like credit cards, ID, small pouches of performance enhancing drugs, etc. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s there, so it’s a good place to hide things.  I like to tuck my key into that pocket so I don’t hear it constantly smacking against my phone when I run.  There’s already enough sounds of things slapping against each other, thank you very much.

The belt has two holsters that keep the bottles in place by friction.  They are relatively easy to use, and keep the bottles in place. Note that the entire system works by friction, so there’s no need to open a latch or click a button to release the bottles.  It’s worked out very well so far, regardless of how full the bottles are.

Bungee Retention SystemForward of the bottles, theres a “Smart Bungee System” to hold additional gear in place.   At least, that’s what I think its purpose is.  The Nathan Sports website has remarkably little information, which is sad, given how gear oriented their target audience is.  Granted, new users may get a manual with their belts. . .but I doubt it.  So, lacking any better idea, I shove gear in between the bungees and tighten it down.  I haven’t had need to use it, so there’s no telling how secure it will be.  I’ll let you know for my next run (hopefully tomorrow).   Just playing with it, the bungee locks aren’t great at stopping the items from flopping around, so we’ll see…

Buckle and Strap KeeperThe clasp system on the belt is a large side quick release.  The adjustment is simple, as it ought to be.  The ends of the strap have a nice keeper system so that you don’t have to deal with the excess slack flapping around like streamers off your kid sisters (or brothers) bike.  I like it because you can also opt to just tidy up the ends, but still leave the system free for adjustment on the trail.

So all together, it’s got a ton of features, and you can load it up like a more fitness oriented Batman.

Water, gloves, Patagonia Nine Trails jacket
Water, gloves, Patagonia Nine Trails jacket

I found it on Ebay for $14.99, with $10.99 in shipping.  The seller had a low feedback (20) so I was naturally a little cautious, but I’ve found that sellers that respond to questions prompty and conscientiously can be trusted.  So I asked the seller about the condition of the bottles; did they have any smells?  I also asked about how much use the pack had, it’s condition, etc.

The seller responded quickly and politely, so I felt OK about bidding.  The good news is that most people won’t bid on a used item from a seller with low feedback.  Of course, maybe they aren’t bidding on something used that you put in your mouth.  Either way, fortune favors the bold, so I bid on it. . .and I won!  And my gamble paid off, because it shipped quickly and arrived quickly.

When it arrived, I lustily ripped open the package.  My new-to-me pack looked almost brand new.  The first thing I did was open the water bottles up and smell them; no odors, not even the plasticky odors.  The openings on the bottles looked new as well.

So, I strapped on my new setup for a quick 4 mile jaunt.  I adjusted the belt so that it sat even with my hips.  Too high and it felt constrictive, and the fabric was chafing the delicate skin of my soft underbelly.  Too low and it felt weird.  So I found the best position was at my hips.  The belt has a good bit of elasticity to it as well; when you get the belt in place, the stretch helps keep it all comfortable.  I filled the water bottles, put my iphone 5s and my key in the pouch, and off I went!

I’m happy to say that it was pretty comfortable.  When it’s fully loaded, you know it’s there.  It’s not flopping around as much as you’d think, but you can tell you’re carrying some weight.  With that said, it wasn’t enough to distract me from my run.  The bottles were easy to access, although it took a bit of learning curve to figure out how to best pull them out and replace them.  The valves themselves weren’t the smoothest; they work a bit differently from other water bottles.  I’m not sure if it’s the model I have, or the design, but it’s a bit finicky. They don’t open and close with a satisfying snap like most bottles.  They close slowly, and if you don’t close them well enough, they spill while you run, especially if they are full.  Opening them isn’t too much better; there’s not a big enough lip on the bottle to use your teeth.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve had the bottle slip out of my mouth as I’ve been opening them, and squirted myself in the face.  Sticky and refreshing.  I have to say, that’s my least favorite part about this system.  Fortunately, you can find Nathan Hydration Race Caps online, which obliviates this whole problem.  I’ll let you know how those work out.

(UPDATE – 5/11/14): So, after doing some more research, I found out a few things.  First, Nathan redesigned their bottles and caps in July of 2013, probably to fix the problems that I described above.  The newer bottles have a much smoother system for opening and closing.  You can tell the newer bottles by the logo; on the older bottles, the logo is oval-shaped, as in the pictures above.  The newer logo is much more square.  Second, most all replacement caps available only fit the newer bottles.  So, if you’ve got the older bottles, you’re a bit out of luck.  Fortunately, the newer bottles do fit the older harness, as I confirmed this past weekend at my local REI.  I may pick up the new bottles at some point, but that would mean my great buy wouldn’t be as great.)

The bottles themselves stay put as you run (although I wasn’t really working to dislodge them).  They fit comfortably in your hand, and they are easy to use, aside from the aforementioned open/close issues.  The openings are large enough to accept a scoop of HEED or other sports drink, which is nice.  The  At the end of the run, I felt much better than I had previously, and my bottles were empty.  As the bottles emptied, the presence of the belt became less and less noticeable.  By the end, as I was stretching and polishing off the last of my water, I forgot that I had the thing on.  It’s that comfy.

I give the Nathan Trailmix a 6/10.  I think it’s great for runs in the 30-90 minute range, depending on how often you drink.  Obviously, you can go longer if you’ve got somewhere to fill up.  It carries the iphone5 effectively, and it’s got some space for small bits and pieces, including some clothing for weather changes.  You can also add more bits and pieces from Nathan, including more bottles, pockets, etc.  If you’re going to be doing longer runs into remote areas, you should consider options with more storage and water. . .so stay tuned for my upcoming review of other options.

Until then, please feel free to comment away and let me know you enjoy reading.  It’s really the only payback I get.

Ongoing Garmin Fenix 2 Review: CRASH!

4/17/2014 – Garmin Fenix 2, Firmware 2.60, iPhone 5s iOS 7.1, Garmin Connect Mobile v2.1.1 I was finishing up a run when I experienced a crash.  I’ll describe it herein. I was doing a short run (~4 miles) in preparation for the upcoming marathon.  By upcoming, I mean 5+ months away.  I haven’t registered or anything.  I’ve just decided that that is what I’m going to do.  Seriously.  I’ve got a book and everything. Anyway, I was finishing up with a 4 mile run, very excited because I was nearing the end.  I was running a workout I created in Garmin Connect, a simple workout for out and back.

  1. Warm up, Time=5:00
  2. Interval, Distance=2.00 miles
  3. Interval, Distance=2.00 miles
  4. Cool Down, Lap Press

I downloaded it to my watch via the USB cord, because the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone was being finicky.  Little did I know, that was a harbinger of doom! During the run I had no problems, other than dodging the homeless people along the levee.  I had just finished coming up a hill and was rapidly approaching the end of my workout.  A glorious moment!  And then, .10 miles from the end, my Garmin Fenix 2, the one watch to rule them, unceremoniously took a dump on all my hard work.  I took a video of what happened, and posted it to YouTube.  You can view it here.

And that was that.  I didn’t know at the time, but I could have reset it by holding down the power button for 15 seconds.    In any case, I got home and immediately plugged it into the USB.  The watch rebooted itself and connected via USB.  OK, that’s a good start. I then disconnected it from the computer and it seemed to be OK.  I then checked and found that the activity was still in the memory.  The activity had been saved, fortunately, so I thought, I’ll try and sync it.  I tried to connect via Bluetooth by using the manual sync, and the crash happened all over again. I then went into the watch after rebooting it and reset it via the software, choosing to reset all settings.  I later realized that this only wipes out your settings; it doesn’t remove anything else, like your history or other data that may be saved in the phone.  I suppose this might be nice if you’re just trying to clear the settings, but honestly, if we are exploring the nuclear option, I’d like it to be a clean wipe. After resetting all the settings, I tried to sync it again.  No dice!  The same crash happened upon trying to sync via Bluetooth.

Fearing for my workout, I synched via USB, and found that it happened without a hitch.  OK, that’s good.  But I still experienced a crash with any attempt to sync via Bluetooth. So, I tried to global nuclear option of a hard reset, described on the Garmin Website here.  Unfortunately, it was essentially the same as the soft reset. True, I had to reenter all my personal information, but the history was still intact.  Again, I’d prefer a full wipe.  And guess what?  It still crashed on bluetooth syncing.  Fortunately, I was still able to save my workout, but what a pain!

I’ll spare the details of the long road to recovery, but here’s what I ultimately had to end up doing to get my watch back to normal, and able to pair with my iPhone.

  1. Use Garmin WebUpdater (the only option I’ve found that consistently works with the Fenix 2) to reinstall the latest update to the watch.
  2. Delete and reinstall Garmin Connect Mobile on my iPhone.
  3. Delete the Fenix 2 from the Bluetooth Devices on my iPhone.  You have to remove it from both the Settings->Bluetooth menu on the iPhone, AND from the Devices menu on the Garmin Connect Mobile app.
  4. Reset both devices
  5. Reconnect them via Bluetooth from the Garmin Connect Mobile app. Note: if you connect them via your iPhone’s Bluetooth menu, you’ll have to do the same connection via the app, otherwise, the Fenix 2 won’t be setup for the app.
  6. Reset all your fields for each activity, reconnect your sensors, savor the life of an early adopter.

So far, my watch is synching and performing normally after that whole process.  I have yet to use it for any exercise, so I’ll update after I do.  Hopefully it holds up.  This is an exciting piece of technology, and you pay the price for having high tech.  But jeez. . .$400 watch shouldn’t be this much trouble. But as the grocery cashier pointed out, she has watches that cost more that do a whole lot less.

Long Term Garmin Fenix 2 Review

I recently picked up a Garmin Fenix 2.  It’s billed as the “One watch to train them all”, which of course appeals to me inner nerd.  So far, it appears as though that tagline may be true.  While it isn’t perfect by any means, it’s got much more functionality than anything out there at the price point that worked for me.

I initially bought a Garmin 610 after my first heart attack.  If you’re interested, maybe I’ll post my report about that.  The 610 was my first GPS watch with a HRM (heart rate monitor) and I wanted something that would alert me that I was approaching my max heart rate threshold.  It was then that I realized how nerding out on my workout data actually encouraged me to workout more.  While the 610 was pretty awesome, I was seduced by the Garmin Forerunner 620- color screen, the HRM-Run metrics, and the lighter weight (and the White/Orange color; OK, I admit it).  But I’ll speak more to the differences of the Fenix 2 in a later post.

So now I have a Fenix 2, and here’s my impressions of it.  There’s no way I could ever hope to achieve the mastery of reviews of DC Rainmaker.  But I’ll add in some points that I didn’t pick up in his review, and continue to update this over time to reflect new and interesting things I discover.  Feel free to ask questions too.  I’m happy to answer, and it’s the only way of letting me know that someone out there appreciates the amount of time
and energy it takes to write all this stuff.

Day To Day Use
Bluetooth iPhone Notifications
User Interface

Day to Day Use

In terms of everyday watch, it’s nice.  The body of the watch is very, very solid, and finished in a matte black that makes it look like a sumo ninja.  The four buttons in the corner are each crosshatched gnurled.  They have a solid clicky feel that is reassuring.  The menu button is vertically hatched, and is larger than the other buttons.  Surrounding the large screen is a nicely detailed bezel.

The strap is held on by two separate screws with Torx heads (two drivers are included in the packaging) and, as I have been saying, solid.  The strap itself has some nice detailing, and plenty of holes, so it should fit a wide variety of people.  The wee bit that captures excess strap has a little knob it so that it stays put.  Looking back on what I’m writing, I realize I need more industrial/technical vocabulary, but alas, I’m just a dude with a keyboard and a liberal arts degree.

In any case, you get the picture.  It’s burly.  It’s like Darth Vader got turned into a watch.  Oh yeah, and the backlight is red.  How cool is that?  The backlight also has a handy feature where it requires a double press to activate after the watch has been sitting dormant for a bit, thus preventing accidental activation of the backlight.  If you then need to reactivate the backlight (within a 15 second window or so) you only need to tap the backlight once.

In terms of wearing this thing around, for all it’s burliness, it’s not as huge as one would think.  It’s got a feeling of heft that is reassuring, like the older Forerunner 610.  The raised bezel should protect the watch face much better than any of the Forerunner’s, and it’s got sweet Darth Vader details as well.

Reading the display is simple.  Some may not like the contrast of white writing on a black face, but I appreciate it.  If it’s too dark, it’s a good excuse to use the sweet red light.  However, if you’re have trouble seeing small numbers on watches, be warned: the additional data on this watch is teeny.    I don’t have any trouble seeing it, but my glasses are quite literally the thickest I’ve ever seen, so I have a lot of help.

fenix data 34 Data Fields

 

 

 

 

There’s a ton of customizable faces for the display, including:

  1. Time Page : allows you to adjust Time Layout, Seconds Style, Additional Data, and Indicator Icons
  2. Time format : Regular, 24 hour, and military.
  3. Time Zones

The Time Layouts are varied.  All are digital; some show just the time, other show seconds and the one I’m currently using shows the seconds underneath the minutes in the same size.  It’s incredibly confusing, and should prove to be great fun at the next BBC (Blackout Bicycle Club) event.  Another fun one looks like a nuclear countdown timer from the movies. . .except it counts up.

The Seconds style affects the way the seconds appear around the bezel.  There are too many options to list, so there’s probably something for everyone.  I put the most confusing one on to get attention; it worked, the grocery store clerk stared at my watch for awhile, trying to make sense of it.  There’s much less interesting versions too for those of you that are…well for those of you that want it.

As for Additional Data and Indicator Icons, there’s other data you can cram onto the display as well.  From the start there’s:

  1. Top: Date/Month, Bottom: Seconds
  2. T: Day of the week/Date, B: Seconds
  3. T: Blank, B: Day/Date
  4. T: Blank, B:Date/Month
  5. T:Day, B: Date/Month
  6. T: Battery % and icon, B: Day Date
  7. T: Day/Date, B: Batt. icon and Sunrise/Sunset time
  8. T: Date/Month, B: Batt. icon and Sunrise/Sunset Time
  9. T: Date/Month, B: UTC time
  10. T: Day/Date, B: UTC time

Exhausting, no?  And yes, you can literally have the watch show you the seconds ticking by in 3 different places on the watch, at the same time.  As if you needed to know that tempus really does fugit.

User Interface

In general, I like Garmin interfaces.  I’ve used Garmin GPS’s from the start, with very little experience with TomTom or Magellans.  With that said, the Fenix 2 is fairly intuitive.  The bottom two buttons on the L side of the watch, usually controlled by my thumb, access the menu and hten navigate through them, working as up/down buttons.  The R top button, which has a sweet red accent ring (like Darth Vader’s lightsaber), acts as a “select” button, while the R bottom button acts as a “Back” button.

From the default time page, pressing the top L button activates the backlight.  Pressing the L middle button or L bottom button scrolls you through the other sensors.  In order:

  1. Compass
  2. Altimeter
  3. Barometer
  4. Temperature

Underneath each sensor’s digital readout is a neat, low-res graph of the trend over the last 48 hours in Barometer mode, and 4 hours in Altimeter and Temperature mode.   Underneath, there’s a small range readout, and I do mean small.  By my squinty count, it’s about 6-8 pixels high.

You can scroll through the sensors to return to the Time page, or simply hit the R bottom button to return.

Holding the L middle button will open the menu.  You’ll also see a battery percentage and icon, and you’ll have the option to do a Manual Sync if you have that option selected (my recommendation).

Tapping the R top button will allow you access to the Activity menu, which you can then navigate using the L middle and bottom buttons, or use the R bottom button to exit.  Tapping the R bottom button from the Time page does nothing.

How does it work?  It’s OK.  I find myself accidentally switching the buttons for Menu and Exit in my head.  I’m wondering if it’s the Apple in me, thinking that the Menu button (which I associate with the Home button) will exit me out.  And sometimes I hit the R bottom button thinking I’m scrolling through options, when in fact it returns me to the previous menu.  It’s a minor annoyance, but it can be pretty confusing when you consider how deep the menus go, and how spartan the menu interface is.  A few times, I’ve gotten lost in my watch simply because I had been kicked up a level in the directory tree.  If you can’t navigate your way through a bit of digital confusion without annoyance, this may not be the watch for you.

Bluetooth iPhone Notifications

The amount of sports that you can track on this watch is pretty amazing.  The fact that I can swim, run, bike, hike, climb, ski, skydive is awesome.  There’s even 3 custom fields that I could use to track sports that I make up (parakayakluging anyone?)  But one thing that truly piqued my nerdy interest was the Bluetooth notifications.  Essentially, any time your phone wants to alert you to something, your watch will alert you as well.  This was a feature I was interested in, and I’m sure other folks may have questions as well.

Here’s somethings to keep in mind:

  1. I only used an iPhone 5s, because I only have an iPhone 5s
  2. I have no experience with any other form of bluetooth watch.  No Pebble, Samsung thing, or whatever.

With said, on with the show!

Setting up the notifications was really quite simple.  I synched my iPhone 5s without any problems (note: you have to sync through the Garmin Connect app, not through the Bluetooth setting on your phone), and then selected how I wanted Notifications to work.  The Notifications setup is found in Settings->Bluetooth->Connection, and your options are as follows:

  1. Always On
  2. Not In Activity
  3. In Activity
  4. Manual Sync
  5. Off

Now, note that when the Bluetooth is on, ANT+ is off.  It’s perhaps the achilles heel of the Fenix 2, but it’s something I can live with.  I think.   In any case, I selected the Not In Activity button, because I wanted to see how these Notifications would work.  You are then prompted to select whether or not you want notifications to show, which I selected “yes”.

You can also choose how you’d like the watch to alert you.  You can access this feature from Settings->General->Sounds->Notifications.  Your options are: Tone, Vibration, Tone & Vibration, and Message Only.  Initially I set the Fenix 2 to vibrate, but that got really old, really fast.  My watch was going off every minute or so at the time, and that was not good for my ADOCD.  So I turned it to Message Only, to stop the incessant buzzing.  I also unsubscribed from Groupon, Travelocity, and a myriad of other sites from which I never buy anything

When I get an email, a text, a phone call or an app notification, I get a small message on the dial with an icon above it.  If it’s an email, It has the sender and the title.  I can choose to acknowledge it, or ignore it.  If I ignore it, the face returns to the normal time display, except now there’s a small number inside a box that slightly obscures the time.  The number indicates how many notifications you have pending.  To access them, you simply press the “menu” button.  You can then scroll through a list of notifications using the up down buttons.   Depending on the length of the notification, you can scroll through the text using the up/down buttons as well.

To access the notifications again after you’ve checked them once, you can always hold down the Menu button.  Doing so will pop up a menu featuring Notifications, so you can always revisit them.  Now keep in mind, the notification will only stay in the list as long as the notification is still up on your phone.  So, should you “ok” the event on your phone, check the email, or read the text, it will remove the notification from your watch.  I wish the reverse was true, as I like a nice clean, badge-free phone, but alas, it’s not.

I measured battery life as follows.  I set my phone to a normal lever of notifications, including apps, emails, messages, and phone calls.  I had some other notifications from various games and apps, butnothing obscene.

Battery Life with Bluetooth

Time     Battery life

  • 00:00   100%
  • 03:00     90%
  • 06:00     75%
  • 11:00     40%
  • 19:00        0%

The time is in hours elapsed.  I was at work, and unfortunately, up all night.  There could have been more data points, but I was too exhausted to note them.  But you’ll notice, it was not a linear reduction in power.  I’ll probably conduct another test at a later date, but for now, it’s such a dramatically short battery life that I’ll be choosing not to have notifications on for my watch.  It’s also just annoying to be that connected.  I found myself more irritated at the notifications, than I found myself appreciating not having to look at my phone.  I suppose there’s a happy medium, but for now. . .there’s not.

Bugs:

Larger messages, like long rambling emails from your mom, take a lot  longer to load into the watch.  As a test, sent myself a few dummy paragraphs (about 500 words) and some 3 minutes later, it still hasn’t loaded.  I received the notification, and am able to see who it is from and what the subject is, but I only get a “Loading…” when I attempt to look at the content.  The same goes for any other message which may contain more data than my teeny 8-bit monochrome screen can handle.  Loading…It may look like it’s hanging, but you can always back out with the “Back” button.

Conclusion

I’ve cycled through three Garmin watches now: the Forerunner 610, Forerunner 620, and the Fenix 2.  As of this date, this watch is my favorite.  The Forerunner 620 is the best for running, and I miss the lightness, the integration with the Garmin Connect Training Calendar, the ability to simultaneously use Bluetooth and ANT+, the speed up uploading via WiFi and BT, and the Personal Records.  But with that said, I’m much happier to have the Fenix 2 on my wrist at all times than I ever was with the Forerunner.  The fact that I can run, hike, swim, and bike with the same level of data recording is awesome.  The software will continue to improve, and I believe the Garmin team will continue to refine the firmware so that the little niggles will improve over time.  It’s not the perfect watch, but, for now, it’s the closest that is available.

Pros:

  • Solid Build Quality
  • Flexibility: useful for many different sports
  • Cool factor

Cons:

  • Girth (how often is that a problem?)
  • Battery life (especially with bluetooth)
  • Some UI issues
  • Still needs some firmware  refinement
  • No simultaneous Bluetooth and ANT+ use

If you’ve enjoyed this review, please comment away.  I will do my best to answer any of your questions in the unit, or provide photos.  I don’t do this for money, so just the fact that you read it is magic to me.  Enjoy!

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