6 Months Along – Garmin Fenix 6x Pro Solar Review

I’ve been running, riding, swimming, hiking, paddleboarding, and just basically living in general with the Garmin fenix 6x Pro Solar for about 6 months now. I wear it as my every day watch and I still get a lot of comments and questions on the device. Some people asking how I like it, some people asking which Samsung Galaxy watch it is, some people asking is it worth the upgrade over the fenix 5 or even the fenix 3.

In general I write these blog posts so that I can point people to something to read, rather than giving them a 10 minute long face to face review of the device. I’m going to do things a little differently for this review and just write it up in an in depth FAQ format.  I hear the same questions asked over and over about the fenix, so I feel like this is the best way to break it all down in a concise, valuable format.  That being said, if you’ve got time and are looking for the perfect in depth roundup of the entire fenix 6 series, head right on over to DC Rainmaker where Ray breaks down the entire lineup.

As an aside, I’m also writing this because the current top ranked review specifically written for the Garmin fenix 6x Pro Solar is a Gizmodo review by a consumer tech reporter named Victoria Song. Her review is probably one of the dumbest product reviews I’ve ever read. And I’m going to have a counterpoint to what she had to say later in this blog post.

How do you like Garmin fenix 6x Pro Solar?

I love it. As an athlete who is always looking for another way to sweat, the fenix 6 has all of my bases covered. Make no mistake, this is a watch for people who’d categorize themselves as athletes first and foremost. Its for people who are more concerned with tracking their training status than sending a text via their watch, or having a device that’ll last a 6 hour workout over a touch screen interface.

The principle reason for my stoke on the fenix 6 is the range of sports and the wealth of data that its good for.  Of the sports I’ve used the watch for, I can list Open Water Swimming, Pool Swimming, Running, Track Running, Trail Running, Treadmill Running, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Mountain biking, Indoor Cycling, Outdoor Cycling, Yoga, Skiing, and Strength training. And the functions I have ready on the go at the click of a button include; Health Stats (more on that later), Hydration Tracking, Training Status, Respiration Rate, Sleep tracking, VO2 Max Estimates, Calories, Calendar, Notifications, Pulse Oximetry, Weather, ABC (altitude, barometer, compass), and of course, Spotify. 

If this seems like a lot of data and activities, it is. If you love data, then the Garmin fenix 6 has almost everything available that you could possibly ask for. I’m certain that a year from now there’ll be more data that I haven’t thought about yet that I’ll all of the sudden NEED, but thats just the way the world is going.

The second reason behind why I love the fenix 6 is the durability and longevity of the device. When it comes to sports and activity tracking, you could make the argument that the Apple Watch covers a lot of those same metrics, but the same can’t be said for the durability and longevity of the device. The battery life of the fenix is measured in days and weeks rather than hours. During a typical training week I’ll wear my watch 24 hours a day and have 7 or 8 workouts ranging from 1-2 hours each, and the battery life of the device will last about 8-10 days. That compares to about 20 hours on an Apple watch. Likewise, the casing and Sapphire or Gorilla Glass that the fenix is constructed from is durable and forgiving. Having taken a couple spills on the mountain bike while wearing my fenix, generally my watch is the last thing that I’m concerned about being damaged (after my bike, then my body).

For a comparison of the Apple Watch versus the fenix 6, head over to the post I wrote a few weeks ago here.

What puts the “Solar” in Garmin fenix 6x Pro Solar?

In addition to being powered by a battery like all of the other Garmin fenix’s, this Pro Solar literally harnesses the power of the sun to recharge its battery. Looking closely at the face of the Garmin fenix 6x Pro Solar, you’ll notice a millimetre wide ring around the inside edge of the face. That ring provides about 90% of the solar capture for the watch while the glass itself captured something like 10%. If that sounds incredible cool, it is. You can bring a graph onto the screen that tells you the current solar intensity and indicates how much energy capture the watch is conducting.

Can the solar power sustain the watch independent from charges? No. At most, if you’re out in the sun quite a bit during the summer, you could maybe get an extra day out of the solar power, but it’ll be extending the life from maybe 10 days to 11. If its an Apple Watch, thats a ton, but if its a Garmin, meh.

That being said, if you were stuck on a desert island and needed to track the days and time, you could actually take advantage of the Garmin’s Power Manager to shut off almost all the functions on the watch except for the actual time and extend the device’s life to about 80 days. I reckon since its really sunny on the desert island where you’ll spend your final days, that you could probably get the watch to last indefinitely with solar power. So there’s that.

Do I highly recommend springing for the Pro Solar? Its very very cool, but if you’re on a budget and don’t have any desert island travel plans, I think you’ll be more than happy with lesser versions of the fenix 6x.

My guess is that Garmin is testing out the solar function and the ability to use solar energy to charge devices for future devices. Do I hope to see more solar energy capture in future devices? Absolutely. If they could get the solar capture to add even more time to the battery life in future iterations of the fenix, it could be a useful add on to the devices.

fenix 6 versus fenix 5. Is the fenix 6 upgrade over the fenix 5? Or the fenix 3?

Is it worth the upgrade over the fenix 3? Absolutely. Depending on which version of the fenix 3 you have, you may or may not have wrist based heart rate built into your watch, and that alone gives the fenix 6 a big step up over the fenix 3. Beyond that, extended battery life, health metrics that are light years ahead of the fenix 3 (more on that later), an updated GUI, and a wider range of functions makes the upgrade worthwhile. Its been a few years since the fenix 3 was released, and I’d say you’re good to go on a new watch.

Is it worth the upgade over the fenix 5? Probably. If you have the OG fenix 5 then I’d say yes again. The original fenix 5 didn’t have SpO2, Garmin Music, Garmin Pay, preloaded maps, and navigation upgrades. In a lot of ways, the fenix 5 was a more refined version of the fenix 3. Eventually, when Garmin rolled out the fenix 5 plus a year later, they included all of those aforementioned functions (SpO2, music, pay, maps, navigation) to make for a really worthwhile upgrade.

In that case, is it worth an upgrade over the fenix 5 plus? I’d still say a yes, but only if you’re already looking to upgrade. The health metrics are way better, the GUI is improved, the battery life got better, the displays got bigger, and its all around a worthwhile improvement. The fenix 5 plus is still pretty current though so if I was dying for the new fenix 6 I’d probably throw the fenix 5 up on pinkbike or Facebook Marketplace and pocket a few hundred bucks towards the upgrade.

What do you think of the health metrics?

The health metrics on the fenix 6 are top notch. Again, there’s a lot of data here and its really up to every person to determine whether or not they’re going to use it. I do look at all of the data, but what I action based on this data is a different question. But I’ll break it down metric by metric here.

Heart Rate

This is a gimme. When it comes to health metrics, Heart Rate is a basic nowadays and we pretty much all know what heart rate means in terms of training and daily activity tracking. The fenix has several screens for HR tracking including a 4-hour graph of your current heart rate, and a graph showing the day by day of your resting heart rate. Not going to say more about this, because well, its pretty basic.

SpO2 / Pulse Oximetry

When Garmin first introduced this health metric into the fenix 5 plus I was pretty excited to see the data coming out of the device. Essentially SpO2 is the measure of oxygen in your bloodstream. The primary factors that would impact your SpO2 are your elevation, and overall wellness. At higher elevations your SpO2 would decline as the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere decreases. Lower oxygen content in your bloodstream effectively means your lungs need to work harder to pump the same amount of oxygen to fuel your muscles. But don’t think that training in a valley versus the top of a hill is going to have any measurable impact on your training and SpO2, we’re talking orders of magnitude like sea level to Calgary, or Houston to Denver, or Denver to Mexico City.

The practical application of this is the ability to look at how training at various altitudes will affect your performance. In fact, the Garmin fenix 6 will tell you during or after a workout when you’ve fully acclimatized to a change in elevation (how long this takes depends on a variety of factors as well, but it could be days to weeks depending on the variation).

Another variable that’ll impact your pulse oximetry is your wellness. Or more frequently, whether you’re sick or not. You know those things they clip on your fingers in the hospital? Well thats measuring your SpO2. Respiratory tract infections, the flu, the cold, bronchitis, etc, are likely to lower your blood’s oxygen content, and so this could be another tool to gauge your overall well-being.

Do I look at this every day to as a an overall health metric, not really. But its interesting and I look at it when I suspect that something could be impacting that variable.

Body Battery

If you ask me, this is one of the single most valuable, and likely underrated training tools that you have at your disposal with the Garmin fenix 6 and the latest generation of devices from Garmin. Its probably one of the least understood metrics that could have one of the greatest impacts on your training volume and overall fitness.

“Body Battery” is the technology that Garmin licenses from Firstbeat Technology to track Heart Rate Variability (HRV). To explain that in depth there’s a great explanation from Harvard Health; but put simply, HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat.

TrainingPeaks has a great article on this with specific reference to the latest research available on its impact on athletes. It states; research increasingly shows that high HRV indicates good health and a high level of fitness, while decreased HRV is linked to stress, fatigue and even burnout. HRV is a holistic measure of total load, i.e. it reflects the impact of multiple sources of stress on the athlete, not just training, but sleep, nutrition, mental and emotional stress.  The idea behind using HRV in training is quite simple: monitor your HRV every morning and train as normal. If your HRV drops significantly, take this as an early warning that you may be overloading the system. A small drop is normal as long as you recover because training is, after all, about stress and recovery. A hard session, especially on top of accumulated fatigue, will lower your HRV.

When I wake up in the morning I look at my my Body Battery which interprets data in relation to HRV on a score of 0-100. If I’m feeling fit and am in a good training cycle, I’ll almost always wake up at 100. If I’m feeling sluggish, overtrained, or like I’m coming down with something, sometimes even after a good night’s sleep I’ll still only wake up at 80. If I’m dying and have the flu, like I did for a few days in 2019, that number will just sit there stuck at 5 no matter how much rest I get.

The thing is, when you wake up with the flu, you don’t need a device to tell you that on a score of 0-100 you’re at a 5. Just like when you’re feeling “just okay” or a little over-trained, you’d probably give yourself a 70 or 80 out of 100 anyways. But athletes have this silly tendency to ignore what their body is telling them. I treat my Body Battery as a sober second thought that’ll remind me that I didn’t get enough sleep one night, or that’ll give me a heads up that maybe that sluggish feeling in the morning isn’t just laziness, but the first shot across the bow warning me of overtraining, or an oncoming cold.

When I look at that number in the morning, If I’m scoring 90 or over when I get up, I’ll train per my training plan. If I’m sitting lower than than 80ish, I’ll typically back off a bit or replace a VO2 workout for an aerobic workout. Anything under 50, and I’ll be in recovery mode or take a rest day.

There’s a ton of literature out there about HRV stress scores and if you have a Garmin fenix 6 or VivoActive and that function isn’t one of the ones that you look at every day, I’d highly encourage you to read up on it.

Respiration Rate

This is exactly what you think it is. How many breaths you take in a minute. Is it interesting? Sure. Is it going to change how you breathe? Probably not. I look at this post workout sometimes after a ride, but I’ll rarely look at it after a run or any harder sessions. You could absolutely talk to an exercise physiologist about how breath rate impacts aerobic performance, but I still feel like this isn’t a metric that I can impact in a meaningful way with less effort than other things that I’m working on to improve performance (sorry for the run on sentence).

I’ll look at this over time to see how “calm” I am sometimes, but thats about it. If someone uses this metric more frequently than I do, I’d actually love to hear about it and I’d kindly encourage you to leave a comment!

VO2 Max and Training Status

This isn’t anything new to the fenix 6 but I thought I’d mention it anyways. What you’re probably wondering is whether or not the VO2 max is accurate. And my answer would be, yes, for the most part. If you’re always using your Garmin and are capturing your hard, easy, and everything in between workouts, the VO2 max ought to get you within a couple digits of your actual number. I find that the value that the device gives you varies considerably more than your actual VO2 max, but for the most part its always within that same order of magnitude. I’ve had my VO2 max tested a couple times in the past few years as a part of research studies at the U of C Human Performance Lab, and its come back at 58 and 60. My fenix 6 puts me at ~57 or ~58 most of the time, and ~60 if I’m feeling fit.

Its important to note, that when my VO2 max was measured in the lab, I was rested, healthy, and pushing right to my limit (because I had a bunch of PhD candidates to show off to). The data my fenix 6 is using to capture VO2 max is based off of really hard runs or ftp tests on the bike, but not ones that I’ve specifically followed any sort of formal rest or fasting protocol for.

As for Training Status, its a good indicator of your training regime but I do find that its needlessly offensive sometimes. When it tells me my training is “Unproductive”, or just “Maintaining”, or worse yet “Detraining”, I know that its not my coach, and it doesn’t know that I’m on a rest week.  On the flip side, when it says “Productive” or “Peaking”, I don’t put too much thought into it. I’ll usually dive into the numbers like pace and power versus heart rate or perceived exertion myself.

Do you actually play music off your Garmin?

Yup. What a time to be alive.

The Garmin fenix 6 series has the ability to play music off of services like Spotify and Deezer. Notably missing is iTunes, which is an obvious omission given that Apple is chasing Garmin in terms of market share in the wearable fitness tech space. Basically you can choose your favourite playlists to sync to your Garmin and you can play music via Bluetooth to your favourite pair of Bluetooth headphones. You can play music during a run or a ride, or just when you’re walking down the street with your Garmin on.

I actually love this as smartphones have gotten larger and larger and with increased size comes increased hassle when you’re trying to figure out where to put your phone in your shorts. I’ll still bring my phone on longer runs over an hour, but if I’m heading out for a tempo run, or intervals, or anything shorter than 60 minutes where I don’t mind being out of reach, then I just bring my watch and my headphones. And its awesome.

Do you get texts to your watch?

Yup. That being said, Garmin and iPhones work okay together, but not great. So whatever shows up on your home screen on your iPhone will show up on your watch. So if I get a text I’ll get the name of who the call is from, as well as the first couple lines. Or if I get an email I’ll get the name, subject heading, and maybe a sentence. But between a Garmin and an iPhone you can’t send a reply, you can only dismiss the message. With Android however, you can reply with preset text messages.

The way I use it, if I’m riding or running and get a notification to my watch, I can have a quick glance and see if its a message that can wait or if its something I should hold up and reply to.

Okay, cool, but what about the Gizmodo Review that you hate?

I can’t stand this. The title of the watch was “The Garmin Smartwatch that Doesn’t Have a Real Reason to Exist“.  And the opening paragraph states the fenix’s are devices reserved for fitness freaks and “They’re jam-packed with every sensor imaginable and built for a specific fitness freak. You know, that insufferable gym rat bulging with high-definition muscles you thought were specifically reserved for Chris Hemsworth. The kind of monster that opts for a six-count burpee while the rest of your class struggles—just because they can. They waltz into the office Monday morning, talking about how they crushed that 13-mile hike over the weekend on a straight 90-degree incline. Listening to their fitness routine is enough to send you into a coma. The Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition is made for that person.”

The reviewer also goes on to question the device’s accuracy versus her smartphone during her 1.83 mile run and says that its “offensively hideous on her petite wrist.”

The “review” goes on and on and on like that. What I can’t stand about the piece is that its a review written by someone clearly outside of the target market for the device. And rather than add value to anyone looking to invest in the device, the author, Victoria Song, chooses instead to try and flex her comedic muscles with a review thats about half as informative as it should be. I’ve got nothing against people who go for 2.5km runs, or people with small wrists. But if your runs are 2.5km your probably shouldn’t be reviewing a watch that was designed to meet the needs of adventurers, triathletes, marathoners, and people who live and breathe the sweat life.