September 21, 2021

905 On the Bay

For Tech Lovers

a go anywhere, do anything watch

11 min read

James Bond, eat your heart out. Yeah, your Omega Seamaster is cool (for 1999), but the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is a gadget worthy of a secret agent. This little watch is filled to the brim with features, apps, and gadgets that will get you in and out of trouble. Ten years ago. this watch would’ve only been believable if it came from Q, but in 2021 you don’t need a license to kill to get a spy-worthy watch. 

The Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar falls into its own category of smartwatches and while it’s certainly useful for sports and fitness, it’s best described as an adventure watch. It’s designed for the gym but also for surfing, for search and rescue, land nav, and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Needless to say, it’s built to be tough. Garmin claims the addition of solar charging will squeeze in a few extra days of charge for days where outlets aren’t accessible. 

The fenix 6 Pro Solar represents the top-of-the-line of Garmin smartwatches. With an MSRP of $949, the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is one of the pricier sport smartwatches on the market. That’s exactly why I chose it to review: I wanted to see what a nearly $1,000 smartwatch has to offer.

Unboxing

Garmin ships the fenix 6 Pro Solar in a small cube-like box and packs in a hefty instruction manual, the watch, and a charging cable. It’s a big watch that isn’t shy about being big. It’s not obnoxious by any means. You can get a 42mm or 47 mm case, and both provide a nice, large display. The 62-grain weight isn’t a boat anchor by any means, and for its size and capability, it’s quite light. 

I charged the watch to 100 percent prior to firing it up. Setup didn’t take much time at all. Unlike other smartwatches, you can set up the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar without a smartphone, but you get the most juice per squeeze with a smartphone. After about 10 minutes, I was fully set up and had customized the watch for my needs. 

I don’t surf, ski, or mountain climb, but I do various workouts, run, hike, and walk, and the like, so I also included the ‘tactical’ mode for its low-key GPS capabilities. The included silicone band is super comfy and stretchy and never felt uncomfortable, and the watch never felt heavy either. 

Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar (Travis Pike)

The screen is a transflective LCD display that is very easy to see in bright light. An extra button activates a backlight that allows it to be used in low-light situations. The light’s bright, too. Many times at night, I navigate to my bathroom using the watch’s light! 

The Garmin app store allows you to load various watch faces and aftermarket apps to the fenix 6 Pro Solar. Thirty-two gigs of onboard memory allow you to add maps, apps, and music. I immediately gave it a Pip-Boy theme from the Fallout series of games to spice it up a bit. I mean, seeing as how it provides a map and a dozen different health metrics, I figure it’s basically a real-life Pip-Boy anyway. 

In the looks department, it’s clearly a sport-based watch. It wouldn’t look great at an event that requires a black tie, but in 99 percent of situations, it looks fine. It’s not as obnoxious as a G-shock can be, but it won’t be mistaken for a fancy dress watch by any means. 

How we tested the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar 

Review: the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is a go anywhere, do anything watch
Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar (Travis Pike)

I used the hell out of it! I’ve worn the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar now for two months and used it daily in that time. I’ve worked out with it, walked with, ran with it, and generally adventured with it. I’ve tested the various capabilities to the extent that I could. 

First and foremost, take the time to set this thing up. There are so many various options and customizations you can do to make the fenix 6 yours, that it’s worth the time it takes to set up. The included manual can help, but Googling what you want to know takes you to Reddit or Garmin, and they typically answer the question faster than it takes to dig out the paper manual. 

The Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is packed with features and apps, here’s a list of the apps and features I used most. 

  • Sport Specific Tracking for miles ran, reps completed, etc.
  • Body Battery Measurements for Stress and Recovery 
  • Advanced Sleep Monitoring
  • Turn By Turn Navigation 
  • Spotify and Amazon music apps
  • Smart Notifications 
  • Tactical Mode 

This is just a partial list of the apps, maps, and more the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is capable of. 

The fenix 6 Pro Solar can be somewhat intimidating, and at first, it seems clumsy. I was so used to touch screens that I got angry quickly at the five-button setup. Luckily, I learned it quite quickly and was able to get my watch set up just perfect in the first few days. 

For the first week, I walked around like a goober with a watch on each wrist. I kept the smartwatch I’d be using for a couple of years on one wrist and the Garmin on the other. This way, I could compare measurements and see if there was a drastic difference. During workouts, I also wore a chest-mounted heart monitor for a few workouts to compare the results. The fenix 6 Pro Solar provided measurements almost entirely in line with my previous smartwatch. Steps, sleeping, workouts, calories burned, etc., were the same. So if it’s inaccurate, so is my previous watch. 

Compared to the heart monitor, however, I only noticed a slight gap in how fast the watch read my heart rate, and that gap existed between the fenix 6 Pro Solar and my own original smartwatch. This is to say that, if I was working out and my heart monitor said 135, my watches would say 115 to 120 for about 10 seconds before they caught up with the 135 measurements from my heart monitor. When my heart rate slowed down, the watches would report an elevated rate for roughly 10 seconds longer than the heart monitor. Not a big deal, but it’s worth noting. 

What we like about the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar 

Review: the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is a go anywhere, do anything watch
Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar (Travis Pike)

I freakin’ love the display. It’s clear and easy to see and doesn’t require constant backlighting. In normal light situations, I can see the display without issue. It’s clear and easy to read. Even when full of information, the big display makes it easy to read. 

One of the neatest features is the body battery measurement. Garmin combines a wide variety of measurements, including stress, sleep, physical activity, and more, to generate one measurement called your body battery. This 0 to 100 measurement gives you a snapshot of your current status. I’m writing this at 9:30 a.m., and my body battery is 63. I certainly feel like I’m a 63 because my sleep sucked due to some pain from an old shoulder injury. All the health tracking features are great overall, but the body battery simplifies things. 

The overhead GPS maps with the little green navigating arrow are very nice. It’s a battery drain but makes navigation easy. I live on the edge of some public lands, and I used the GPS to navigate the various trails and even locate an off-the-path pond. 

I mentioned battery life. My other smartwatch lasts five days on a single charge, and my Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar lasts anywhere from seven to nine days, and that’s with heavy use. You can make the battery life longer by not using the music capabilities, the GPS, and cutting off some measurements, and apparently, it goes all the way to 14 days without a charge if you cut some apps. The power saver mode also works well and bought me a weekend’s worth of time once. 

When you set the watch to a specific workout mode, you can perform a wide variety of metric tracking. The press of a button can end a set and enter a rest timer, or end and start the next Yoga pose, create laps, etc. When it comes to weight lifting, it’s super handy for timing rest periods and sets. I’ve found it to be soul-crushing when I think I’m on set four, but in reality, I just started set three. Soul crushing, but accurate. 

I also like keeping a consistent rest time between sets, and the big timer that sits in front of you as you rest helps with that. I’m not setting an additional timer to keep my rest periods consistent. I really wish they had an interval timer from Garmin on the watch. The aftermarket app store offers some options, but I’d love a Garmin-supported model that allows me to set the timer with work and rest periods. 

The fenix 6 Pro Solar is a durable beast. The screen is protected by a Gorilla Glass 3 DX glass panel. After many kettlebell snatch and clean and presses, I’ve yet to even scratch it. I’ve had that kettlebell smash into it over and over as I exercised, and it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve taken it swimming in pools and kayaking in oceans, and it resists water without issue. I sweat enough that I once killed an early model of Fitbit, and that hasn’t stopped the Garmin yet. 

Using the Garmin with Bluetooth headphones is simple, and adding music and creating playlists is far from challenging. I like being able to run with just the watch and some headphones while blasting Run the Jewels. 

Review: the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is a go anywhere, do anything watch
Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar (Travis Pike)

Finally, I’ve found myself more productive with my watch set up to receive phone alerts. Instead of looking at my phone with every ding, I can glance at my watch and barely ever stop what I’m doing. I’ve found it makes me more productive and allows me to ignore spam and unimportant texts and alerts. The ability to turn off notifications within a certain time span ensures I don’t wake up to see the latest Twitter update at 1:00 a.m. 

What we don’t like about the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar 

When you set the watch into strength training mode, it attempts to count your reps as you exercise — and boy are the counts inaccurate. I could do 10 pushups, and it will say I did four, or maybe it will say I did 24. I’ve found it to be accurate maybe five percent of the time. It works so poorly that I’m not even sure why they included it. Even slow, simple exercises like curls do not register correctly. 

When you go into the app to look at your workout, the watch also guesses at which exercises were done and what muscles were worked. I say guesses because it’s also rarely correct. You can go back and change it manually, but at that point, I can just use a workout log app that’s faster and more intuitive. Due to the accuracy failure, I never use this feature. 

I love using the GPS and overhead map setting, but if you travel via car from one location to another, it takes forever to figure that out. I traveled to my parents’ house one weekend, and it took all day to correct the map. It thought I was still at home and showed me my home address. It will certainly frustrate anyone who travels to hike. Garmin’s website states it uses my phone’s location services, but my phone has no issues with where I’m at. I still get the question mark anytime I travel from home, and it can take minutes to hours to correct itself. 

Review: the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is a go anywhere, do anything watch
Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar (Travis Pike)

This leads us to a more important problem: the “solar” in the fenix 6 Pro Solar doesn’t seem to work. I wanted to see how much solar it took to charge a percentage of the battery. If it gets too hot, it won’t charge, so I had to manage the heat and solar exposure. I tried strapping it to my steering wheel in my car during a three-hour drive. It sat directly in the sun the whole ride. It didn’t charge a single percent. I set it in my kitchen window the next day and after several hours, it hadn’t charged a single percent. In fact, both times I tried to solar-charge the watch, it lost battery power.When I took my family to the zoo, I noted the percentage of the watch that was charged. We spent five hours outdoors and, again, the watch’s battery monitor didn’t improve at all. According to Reddit, I’m not the only person with this issue, and several people stated they had their watch replaced when this occurred. 

There also seems to be a ghost in the machine that really wants me to go trail running. Several times in the last few months, the watch suddenly started itself in the ‘Trail Running’ mode. This included once at 1:30 a.m. while I was sleeping. Other times, when I’m just sitting at my desk or watching TV, it will vibrate and say I’ve started a trial run. To accidentally do so, I’d have to press one button three times to start the run. It’s a minor annoyance most of the time, but I was a little more than grumpy trying to figure out how to end the run at 1:30 a.m. when I was half asleep. 

Verdict

The Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar packs a ton of technology, memory, and options for the end-user. Being able to customize it for a wide variety of adventuring tasks is quite handy. While I was turned off initially by the five-button, no touchscreen setup, I quickly became a fan. The display is amazing, and the Garmin phone app is easy to use. The app store isn’t massive, but it’s nice to have the ability to add community customization to the watch. 

I feel like the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar is trying to do a lot, in fact, maybe too much. Don’t get me wrong, I love options and features, but it seems unfocused overall. The strength training is terribly inaccurate, and the watch has solar in its name, but the solar capability doesn’t seem to do anything. I like the watch, I love a lot of its features, but at this price point, I expect something nearly perfect. 

FAQs about fenix 6 Pro Solar 

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q: How much does the Garmin fenix 6 Pro Solar cost? 

A: MSRP rounds out at $949.99 but you can find it for significantly less on Amazon.

Q: What’s the charge time like? 

A: From dead to 100 percent, it takes about three hours. 

Q: What music apps are supported? 

A: Spotify and Amazon music worked perfectly

Q: What’s the warranty? 

A: One year from the original date of purchase 

Q: Does it tell time? 

A: You have to look at it first, but yeah. 

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Travis Pike is a former Marine machine gunner who served with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines for five years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He plays in the great outdoors of Northwest Florida and enjoys good beer, sharp knives, and long walks in the woods.

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