The Fenix 3HR multi sport GPS watch
I have owned the Fenix 3HR for nearly 2 years and used it every day in that time, so I’m in a great position to be able to give you an honest and realistic review of the watch. There are different versions of the latest model, the Fenix 5, available now (they never produced a Fenix 4) so the Fenix 3 is currently available with a tempting 33% discount on Amazon and it represents excellent value for money at this price point Garmin Fenix 3 HR
If you want to make some massive savings versus the Fenix 5, then the Fenix 3 HR is so packed with features, it’s going to work brilliantly for almost everyone. Overall it’s a great watch, rugged and reliable and does all the things most athletes will ever need from a GPS watch.
I’ve used it every day since May 2017 for a whole range of Triathlon related activities – road running, trail running including ultras up to 50 miles, treadmill running, road cycling, mountain biking, turbo training, zwift, swimming both in pool and open water; in lakes, rivers and the sea and races of all kinds featuring any combination of the above! In that time I’ve run over 5000 miles and cycled a similar distance and have used the watch whilst swimming 400,000 yards. So it’s fair to say I’ve put it through it’s paces!
I’m not going to go into detail on the design features and so on as you can find that information almost anywhere (see DC Rainmaker) but I am going to show what I really like and what I didn’t like so much and the features that I use all the time. I’ll also tell you about how it has stood up to the test of time and the use and abuse I’ve put it through!
What I like about the Fenix 3 HR…
At first look it may appear a little bulky but once your start wearing it you really don’t notice this as a drawback. Despite my skinny wrist, I’ve actually found it to be a very comfortable watch to wear.
I love the fact that the display is crystal clear and available as black numbers on a white background. The old fenix 2 I had previously was only white digits on a black background and I found this hard to see at times. The option of displaying either way on the Fenix 3 HR is much appreciated.
The Fenix 3 is extremely durable and rugged, something I really like. I’ve looked after it but I’ve used it properly, I’ve bumped it into things and dropped it. I’ve crashed my bike with it and fallen numerous times running on trails, I’ve bashed it into lane ropes. It’s completely unscathed!
The strap is comfortable and again has lasted brilliantly no signs of any deterioration due to sunlight or wearing. I didn’t go for the Sapphire Screen, just the regular one, and I haven’t used a screen protector, however the screen is almost as new after very extensive use – no scratches or damage.
Buttons not touch screen
I really like the button configuration and fact that it’s not a “touch screen” – none of that trying to tap a screen with cold or sweaty hands or with gloves on. The buttons are the ideal size, I find that once you get used to which button is which, you can use the Fenix 3 without looking at it for all the regular use – laps, stop, start, pause. This is especially useful in the pool when timing intervals.
As with most of the Garmin range the Fenix 3 HR is hugely customisable with the built in features and widgets covering almost anything you’d want. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the functionality – my preference is to find what works for me and leave it alone! I have taken the time to programme in interval sessions for the run in particular when training for the London marathon. It’s a straight forward process and as with most garmin devices there are lots of YouTube “how to” videos to refer to if you get stuck.
The third party apps on the Garmin IQ store will fill in any gaps and for those of you who like customising and changing your watch face there are hundreds of options. You can choose from analogue face to make it look like a regular watch or digital with a multitude of data fields if you so desire. You can also alter the colours on the display to suit your taste.
I like the fact that it really looks like a regular watch not a fitness tracker. You won’t feel embarrassed wearing the watch in almost any setting from a gym to a new client meeting at the office or a social event.
Open water swim accuracy
The accuracy of the GPS is excellent as you would expect. It connects with satellites quickly and in thousands of activities I’ve never known it to crash or fail to record a session. It’s in open water swimming where I’ve been most impressed with the accuracy of the GPS. I’ve worn it on my regular river swims where it’s easy to double check distances and it has proven extremely accurate on the wrist. With the Fenix 2 I had to tuck it under my swim hat to get any level of accuracy which meant you couldn’t check the watch during an activity. Likewise I know others in my triathlon club who use the Garmin 735 and have very inconsistent readings in the open water. I’m pleased to say that the accurate swim readings from the Fenix 3HR have really enhanced my training.
I really like that the battery life is excellent. For me, as an ultra runner this aspect is vitally important. I just don’t want the watch giving up the ghost half way round a 50 mile race. But I’ve used it for 6 ultra marathons with up to 11 hours in full GPS mode, it’s never let me down and I’ve always still had at least 25%+ battery left.
If you intend running or cycling even longer then a great feature of the Fenix 3 is that you can recharge it on the fly using a portable charger without losing the data. Just hook up the charger and stick it in your backpack for 20 minutes it will carry on recording everything apart from heart rate til you put it back on. I’m delighted that the battery is still going strong 18 months on after charging once or twice a week. Even with 2 – 3 hours of GPS usage every day I only need to recharge no more than every 3 or 4 days.
OK now let’s look at some of the negatives…
It is a bit bulky, however I have a small wrist and after a short while I didn’t notice the bulk. I’ve never felt that it affects me for running or swimming. I didn’t enjoy wearing it at night but I think that might be a personal thing. If you want to get your sleep analysis or early morning resting heart rate then you’d need to keep it on obviously.
Heart rate inconsistencies
Sometimes the HR readings can be a little inconsistent depending on the activity and other variables. It pays to tighten the strap before you run. Your wrist size shrinks a little as you run and you may find readings inconsistent during the run if it’s not tight enough. When I’ve done this I have found that the heart rate readings are very consistent. On the odd occasion I forget I’ll get an anomalous reading afterwards (I generally don’t check my heart rate during the activity).
Finally the charger connection is a bit fiddly. It’s frustrating that two years on I still have to faff around getting it properly clicked in. But once connected it stays put and charges really fast – less than an hour for a full charge.
The watch face can contain up to four data fields in the standard Garmin displays. Obviously how you configure the watch is down to personal preference, I typically use the following displays…
display 1 – Distance / Timer / Average Pacedisplay 2 – Lap distance / Lap time / Lap Pacedisplay 3 – Heart rate display 4 – Ascent display 5 – Breadcrumb trail
display 1 – Timer / Distancedisplay 2 – Lap time / Lap distance
display 1 – distance / time / speeddisplay 2 – lap distance / lap time / lap speeddisplay 3 – heart ratedisplay 4 – a downloaded app with 9 data fields
Apps and widgets.
The activity widget loads of information on activites in the last few days, easily accessible with lots of additional “drill down” data fields.
Steps widget – I like the steps widget just to keep a general check on my overall activity level.
Notifications – you can use this widget to keep you up to date with the football score while you are running or if you are really keen to stay in touch then it will notify you if there are text messages or incoming phone calls. Not sure I’d be keen to be interrupted in that way when I’m running though.
Heart rate – resting HR. I like to use the resting HR averages over a period of time. I’m not sure if they are 100% accurate on a day-to-day basis and if I was using this data for a specific purpose then I’d definitely want something more accurate. I tend to compare weekly average with monthly / annual average to keep a check on any underlying issues.
In summary, the Fenix 3HR is a solid, reliable watch with great battery life and accurate measurement, which represents great value for money since the newer incarnations have come to market.