LAS VEGAS — When Garmin launches a $600 smartwatch just a few weeks before Apple is about to introduce its category killer, the company must be pretty confident.
Here at International CES, Garmin is showing off its new line of Fenix 3 Sports Watches — multisport fitness trackers with built-in GPS that can pair with a smartphone to show various alerts and notifications. It comes in three models, including the handsome Sapphire, which has a hard sapphire crystal face. It’s a beauty, but surely doomed, right?
When asked if Garmin was worried about the Apple Watch, due to be launched sometime this spring, a spokeswoman confidently said absolutely not. She explained that Garmin’s watches are unapologetically outdoor fitness devices built for sportspeople who want a watch to do very specific things — track workouts – and aren’t interested in beaming heartbeats or sending emojis.
“They are purpose-built,” she said, gesturing at the display. “They’re built for hiking, biking and running. Garmin has been in the wearables market for 10 years. We’re not worried at all.”
The Fenix watches are designed for running, biking, skiing, snowboarding, climbing and fitness training. They are water-resistant to 100 meters and include the standard altimeter, barometer and compass sensors. They have lots of watch functions including alarms, alerts, timers and stopwatch, and have a wide range of pairing functions via Bluetooth LE.
The spokeswoman called them “relatively smart” watches. They can’t make phone calls and can’t respond to texts, but can display alarms, calendar items, texts and phone calls. The watch face can be customized from a variety of analog and digital watch faces. The new watches will also run apps. Garmin has launched an open platform for third-party developers to create apps for the watch.
Battery life depends on mode: They get up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to three months in watch mode. (It’s expected that the Apple Watch will have to be charged daily, but Apple hasn’t yet made any official announcement).
Playing with the Fenix 3 Sapphire at the booth, I was blown away by its design and functionality. It does everything, from pairing with a heart-rate monitor to recording swimming strokes. The Sapphire model is a super-good-looking watch. It’s unapologetically metal: big, chunky and hard-edged.
But the interface is the same old multi-button mishmash common to most digital watches. There are five buttons around the edge, and I quickly got lost. Even one of the Garmin PR people got confused a couple of times when trying to show me the watch’s functions. Lots of times, I tried to press the screen, but alas, it’s not touch-sensitive. I’m sure I could master it if I sat down with the inch-thick manual, but I’ve become accustomed to intuitive gadgets that need no explanation.
The Fenix 3 watches will be available in the next couple of weeks. The Sapphire will cost $599; the Silver and Grey models will be $499.
I loved the industrial design of the Fenix Sapphire, but I’ll wait for the Apple Watch.