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Garmin Fenix Outdoor GPS Watch

Posted in Product Reviews on July 1, 2013
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Contributors: Andrew Schuth

Welcome to the newest column in Four Wheeler magazine, Two Idiots Outside. Allow us to break down the title for you: There are two of us. We are idiots. We’ll be outside.

In each issue, we’ll be road-testing outdoor gadgets and things, from gear and clothing to tools and survival products—basically, it’ll be stuff you won’t find talked about anywhere else in the magazine. Where the idiocy comes in is, we may know 4x4 tech, but outdoor tech can be a little foreign to us—and maybe to you, too. For example, do you know which outdoor product has a foot box, baffles, and a lower-limit rating? If you said, “Duh, a sleeping bag,” this isn’t the column for you. If you said, “A tree?” then this is the column for you.

We’re setting out to educate you on an entirely new set of lingo and technology to make you a better shopper for what’s needed to accompany you on four-wheeling trips—everything but the vehicle itself. The other goal is for us to determine exactly how idiot-proof each product is—can Two Idiots Outside use it? Yes? Then you can, too.

So, meet the Garmin fenix Outdoor GPS Watch. As the name implies, its main feature is GPS, but it also has geocaching and mapping, as well as an altimeter, barometer, compass, and fitness functionality, like a heart-rate monitor and cadence surveillance. An appealing quality for four-wheeling is the capability of storing up to 10,000 track points. “It’s good for hiking, biking, and all aspects of the outdoors—it’s a jack of all trades,” said Justin McCarthy, a spokesperson for Garmin.

Since you probably already think “Garmin” when you think GPS and navigation, throwing in all the other features to make it a full-Garmin experience in a watch appealed to us. Knowing there would be a learning curve did not, but we hunkered down with the watch and the owner’s manual and got to work. Three hours later, we were still futzing with the main screen: the time of day. Thankfully, battery life is based on how you’ve set up the fenix for your needs, such as sensors off versus on. We were still at full charge.

OK, that’s not entirely true—in those hours, we did manage to locate satellites in the area, set up a fitness profile, and peruse the various layers of the fenix. There are five buttons surrounding the face, which act as “enter,” “up,” “down,” “back,” and “what’s this one do?” Next, we tackled the GPS, routing, and mapping. If you’re new to things like waypoints (you can add 1,000 of them to the fenix, such as the trailhead), tracking, and longitude/latitude, the learning curve is indeed steep. We probably could have told you exactly how steep if we’d been able to figure out the elevation setting. We’d have also been able to view the altimeter, barometer, and compass.

OK, again, that’s not entirely true—we figured all that out, and the displays were easy to read. There are also zoom options on the mapping. However, the fenix overall really wasn’t intuitive for us, and Justin acknowledged it can be intimidating to someone new to GPS. It can be freaky having “something on your wrist having a conversation with space.” Our problem was, we didn’t know what space was saying. “For the very intermediate and beginner, we have many tutorial product pages on our website,” Justin said. “We even have a GPS school, explaining what it is. We do anticipate some navigation background in our users, but if they don’t have it, they can watch the tutorial. Much of the terminology is covered.”

Unfortunately, we idiots didn’t start with the tutorials; we’re the types to just open a box and try to figure it out on our own. Mistake. You should do the tutorials if this stuff is new to you. However, what was not a mistake: We practiced in the city before heading to an unknown trail and seeing whether we could find our way back. We picked a destination first: the local Starbucks, then somehow managed to be off track, waypoint, or route.

However, after watching the videos on Garmin’s website, we felt we’d actually graduated to average user, or slightly below average. We began to get comfortable enough with the buttons and screens to mark waypoints and trust the fenix to guide us (to Starbucks we went!), then hit a trail. We know soon, we’ll be completely fenix-fluent.

We have to admit that before we found our comfort zone, we did what a lot of people do these days with “advanced” technology such as programming a DVR or fixing a computer problem: they have a kid do it. Therefore, we enlisted Max Pavoni to find out whether we were dumber than a seventh grader. We handed him the fenix and the owner’s manual and waited to see whether it was intuitive for him, or if this might be Three Idiots Outside. Within five minutes, he had created a route and marked waypoints. “It’s kind of easy to use. I guess the GPS was the hardest. If I didn’t have instructions here, I wouldn’t have figured it out as fast.”

When we asked how he knew what a waypoint was—location or point of interest that can be added to a route—he said, “In my video game, when you’re on a mission, you mark waypoints when you’re going to your enemy’s base camp to get ammo.” Who says video games are ruining the youth?

One other cool thing: On the Garmin website, you can download Basecamp, a route-planning program. “To a beginner, it looks technical, but it’s simple,” Justin encouraged. “You can plan your own route and send things directly to the watch.” It was true: We were able to create routes based on how we’d planned to travel, including by vehicle and on foot.

But still—how could it be easy for a kid to use in mere minutes while we struggled with it? Leave it to Max to provide the insight: “When I was born, all this stuff was already invented, but maybe there weren’t watches with GPS in them when you were born. For example, if there are flying cars when my kids are born, I won’t know what to do with them, but they’ll be born into it and know how to use them.” Well, Garmin certainly makes it easier for those of us not born into GPS to utilize the fenix to the Max.

On the other hand, was he being kind and it was simply that we’re idiots? He was silent as he thought. “I guess,” he replied.

Success! That means we’ll see you again next month.


Olathe, KS 66062

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