The Garmin Fenix Conclusion

If you’ve been following, you know I am frustrated and angry with Garmin. I want to stop complaining about this, but I would like people to know that Garmin products are mediocre at best. You might have a good one, but I have had problems with every Garmin product or service I have ever used. They appear to be the best GPS company out there, but they definitely are not. So here is my conclusion starting with a recap.

My $500 Fenix is not even a usable device. It crashes on every single run over 2 hours long, and there is the chance it was not retain data on any random activity. I have been trying to work with Garmin support for months. Every time I have an exchange with them, I have to start from the beginning again. Apparently, they can’t save history for any of the users. They will recommend that I try the same thing every time. They ask me to do a master rest of the device and install the most recent firmware available. Both of these suggestions are reasonable. Every time I received this suggestion, there was actually a new firmware update, and I had high hopes that this would solve the problem. But it did not.

This happened 4-5 times over a period of months. Each time resulted in more crashes and lost run or ride data. Never once did Garmin offer to replace the device. In fact, they asked me to try more and more intrusive things to prove it wasn’t working. For example, I wore the device with tracking turned on for two days straight constantly looking to see if the device crashed, if the low battery alert appeared (which also stopped tracking), or any other problems. I have a full time job, and this seems to be excessive that I became a troubleshooter for their own products.

By the way, as a sidenote, I bought the Fenix mostly because of Garmin’s claims on it’s battery life: 50 hours with one tracking point per minute or 20+ hours using their smart tracking feature. The 50 hour option is no good for a trail runner. It won’t even come close to accurate due to the many turns, switchbacks, ascents and descents. But the 20+ hour claim is bogus. It barely lasts 8 hours, and it was getting worse and worse over the course of the year. I bought the Fenix in late March. By September, I noticed significant decline in battery performance.

I thought these problems might be isolated to my device. Maybe it was a defective device rather than an inherent flaw in the design and software. But no. Doing a number of searches online revealed other people (start at 1:20) with the exact same problems.

I could go on about the slow and non-intuitive interface, the sticking buttons, the amount of time it takes to acquire satellite reception, and gripes with Garmin Connect, but I think you get the point. There are many problems with this product. It is simply not a useable device, and $500 is way too much money (for me) to just write it all off. I wrote my last support request to Garmin on Friday afternoon. I want to give them one last chance to make this right. We will see how they respond.

To prepare for their generic response, I performed a master reset of the Fenix and I made sure the most recent version of the firmware is installed. The problem with the firmware installations is that they are released every few weeks. So every time I talk with Garmin, I am one version behind, and they assure me the next version will solve all of my problems. I am actually a trusting person, so I try it only to be disappointed again. Some of my most epic runs were lost due to the crashes. Once it crashes, I restart the device (stats are all messed up at that point), and find myself staring at the watch instead of enjoying the trails just so I can catch it rebooting. I could run for miles before I’ve realized it has crashed. There is no alert that the device is failing.

So it’s like an emotionally abusive relationship. Garmin slaps me in the face with a device failure. I complain and call them out on it. They apologize and tell me they’ll change, this will never happen again. And then the very next time, it happens again. Because I don’t want to be one of those unreasonable people, I want to give them the chance to fix it. I give them another chance. Slap! And another. Slap! And another. Slap!

Now I just feel stupid.

So I performed the most recent firmware upgrade on Friday to version 4.0. Wow! A full point release! This must solve the problem! Then I ran a Montana de Oro yesterday for 13.3 miles and 3 hours. The device crashed around 2 hours into the run, just like every other time. I was slapped in the face once again. So how many times do I repeat before it is clear it will never change! Yesterday was the last time I will ever wear the Garmin Fenix. It is also the last time I will ever wear any Garmin device.

This morning, in looking for a new device to replace the Fenix, I ran across some great information that will draw this to a conclusion. I purchased the device at REI last year. I have been concerned that Garmin was not going to help be by the time the one year warranty ran out, and maybe they won’t. But REI will. I had never realized that REI offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee for one year. This is such great news, and I will be returning the device within the next week. I just hope Garmin is the one that eats it in this case. I am still interested to see how they will respond to my email, but I have a way out now and an even better view of REI.

So what is next? Well, I am very interested in the Suunto Ambit2, but it is another expensive product. I really just want to be able to track my runs accurately, see my heart rate, and get battery life that can last 10+ hours in real life use. I don’t see any other GPS units that are as good as the Suunto option, but there is the emerging smart watch option. The Magellan Echo looks like a viable option, and this is the way I am leaning. It is only $150 compare to the $500 Suunto Ambit2. Of course, there are trade offs. But there are many rumors of a new Apple smartwatch too. If that happened, it might be announced at WWDC this year in June. There is also the Suunto Ambit2 R coming out in April.

So there is hope out there. But if there is one moral of this story, think twice before buying a Garmin device. The quality of their devices is simply not up to par with their reputation. Their support is not helpful (so far). Be careful.

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