Saturday, April 27, 2013

Forerunner versus Fenix

You don't have to read my blog for long to know that I'm a gadget freak.  I love electronic gadgets.  When I go hiking or kayaking, I need a nerdy vest with half a dozen pockets to hold the GPS, the phone, the camera, etc.

In the category of GPS, I'm a big fan and a stock-owner in Garmin.  I started off with a Garmin 12XL way back in 1998.  When I got bit by the geocaching bug, I upgraded to the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx, which I still love and use a lot.  It was sorta bulky for carrying with me when I went running outdoors, so a few years later my wonderful wife gave me a Garmin Forerunner 405.  There were things I liked and things I didn't like about the Forerunner.

Forerunner Likes
- Compact / Wrist-worn.  As previously mentioned, it was a little awkward running with the bigger handheld GPSMap 60CSx in my hand.
- Automatic Wireless Data Uplink.  I loved that all I had to do was walk into the same room as my computer, and my Forerunner would automatically start wirelessly transmitting the data from my run / hike / kayak / outdoor adventure-du-jour to my computer.  It would upload automatically to the Garmin Connect website where I could see where my outdoor adventure took me on a Google street map or satellite image, along with plots of my altitude, speed, heartrate, and anything else I could want to analyze.

Forerunner Dislikes
- Sort of like Gizmo in the movie Gremlins.  DON'T GET IT WET! 

Yes, yes, it's water resistant and wasn't damaged by getting wet.  However, the Forerunner was minimalist on buttons and instead had a touch-sensitive bezel to operate it.  It was pretty cool, but the first time I went running in the rain, oh my!  I discovered it treated every rain drop as a touch and activated all sorts of different sub modes and features.  I think it was telling me how many calories I burned in Swahili, but it wouldn't let my legitimate touches get it back to the display screen that I actually wanted. 

Okay, no problem.  If you push both buttons at the same time, it locks (or unlocks) the bezel.  I would just lock it before going on a hike in the rain or going kayaking where it might get splashed.  I just couldn't change screens or modes while it was wet.

- Battery life was meh.  I could use it one day for a GPS activity outdoors and then would need to recharge it.  If I hadn't recharged it in the previous couple of days, then the battery was likely to die in the middle of my excursion.

Again, no problem.  It was manageable.  I just made a point to put it on the charger the night before any outside activities.

Overall, I liked the Forerunner and used it A LOT.  I've got 153 entries in my Garmin Connect log dating back to October 2008 to prove it, and you can see the Garmin Connect widget on most of my hiking and kayaking blog posts.


Enter the Fenix.

I was pretty excited when I read about the Fenix on the Garmin website, primarily because it's waterproof and the battery life is much better than the Forerunner.  I got the Fenix in the autumn just before leaving on patrol, so I haven't taken it out on any real outdoor adventures kayaking or hiking yet, but I've been messing around with it on my way to and from work and while at sea.

So far, it's living up to my expectations.

Got wet?  No problem!  It's been pouring rain here and with five buttons on the Fenix, I can do any sort of manipulations I want while it's wet.  No touchscreen to go haywire with rain drops.

The battery has been doing GREAT.  With the old Forerunner, my only battery indication was when the Forerunner DIED (typically in the middle of a run or hike).  The Fenix has a handy indication on the screen to tell you the exact percentage charge status of the battery.  I have been able to use it for weeks at a time just as a watch with the GPS turned off.  I have also used it for several hours at a time standing on the bridge of a submarine with the GPS turned on and had PLENTY of battery capacity left over.

I love that it is very adaptable.  You can have as many or as few screens as you want.  You can customize each screen with different data parameters to display.  You can customize the buttons to do just about anything except order a pizza. 

I like that it monitors temperature and includes that in the plot of speed and other parameters on Garmin Connect.  Now, the temperature reading isn't accurate when it's on my wrist and sensing my body heat, but I've been using it in very cold environments, attached to the outside of my cold weather gear.  I also got one of the remote temperature sensors that I will attach to my backpack when I go hiking in the summertime, and it will wirelessly transmit the temperature to the Fenix at some periodic interval. 

My only complaint about the Fenix is: No automatic uploads.  It doesn't transmit wirelessly like the Forerunner did.  I'm okay with that.  I don't mind plugging in a USB cable.  The frustrating part is when I open Garmin Connect, it "sees" the Fenix is there and plugged in, and I click on "upload activities," and it says there are no activities to upload.  In order to get the data from my Fenix into Garmin Connect, I have to manually open the file and import it into Garmin Connect.  So it's a little labor intensive, but I can live with that.  

Overall, I'm ecstatic with the Fenix, and I'm anxious to go try it out hiking and kayaking now that I'm back in port.

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