Table of Contents
Can adding solar charging to a smart watch justify an additional cost of up to $178? That’s the whole question about the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar.
Definitely the best sports watch now, but its main new function will not necessarily change the lives of all users.
Last year, Garmin unveiled a very special watch with a solar charging filter. This year, the American manufacturer has decided to deploy this technology over a large part of its range. The one that benefits the most, unsurprisingly, is the Fenix 6 Solar, which has taken another step forward in terms of autonomy.
However, the addition of this feature costs additional price and it is probably not insignificant if Garmin has left the classic version of its Fenix 6 in the catalog. Does solar charging justify paying 100 to 150 euros more for a watch?
Is the Fenix 6 better?
Is not a devaluation of Garmin’s engineers to say that they have kept much of the Fenix 6 in the development of its Solar version. In fact, the two products are similar in many ways and most of the work has consisted of integrating homemade solar charging into the most complete watch in the catalog.
Since several experts have already thoroughly tested the Fenix 6 last year, we will not go into the fundamental functions of the watch in detail. On the other hand, we advise you to see this video about the Fenix 6 test
A screen like no other
While for most high-end connected watches, AMOLED reigns supreme, Garmin favors a less consensual technology, the LCD. This is a perfectly accepted choice from the side of the manufacturer, who here targets athletes more than aesthetes.
Indeed, in direct sunlight, or even when viewing conditions are difficult, the reflective LCD (which uses ambient light as a source of illumination) is very effective. On this point, Garmin’s position is clear: prioritize efficiency over aesthetics.Indeed, for a demanding runner, it is inconceivable not to have a clear view of the information on the screen, having to struggle with his watch or having to adjust its brightness.
In racing, the watch should be an advantage and not a source of concern. It doesn’t matter if the colors are less shimmering than a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and this is an important point, so do not charge your watch every two days. Again, this type of LCD, which requires less light resources, meets the battery life requirements of a Garmin well.
Focus on Garmin’s “solar” technology
Now we come to Solar technology. This is certainly the great novelty of this new edition of the Fenix 6. It is actually a filter which is applied to the dial and which functions as a solar window.
Precisely between two layers of glass making up the watch screen (including the protective one in Gorilla Glass), Garmin added another layer of horizontal acrylic glass stripes to redirect the perceived light to the solar cells. This technology was developed by a French company and acquired by Garmin.
At first glance, when you look at the watch, this solar layer is invisible. And for good reason, the readability of the watch should not be reduced. On the other hand, by focusing a bit on the Fenix 6 Solar, it is possible to see a slight copper band around the perimeter of the dial.This darker region is the most efficient in terms of energy recovery, as it alone collects 80 to 90% of it.
Concretely, this solar recharge is not an additional battery in the watch which would be consumed once the main battery is flat. Also It is not a standalone battery However, the captured solar energy does not dispense with conventional recharging.
In reality, Solar technology should be seen as an autonomy extender, variable depending on light conditions. Garmin considers that 3 hours of exposure to the sun at 50,000 Lux (i.e. a sunny day) can increase battery life by 3 days. This exposure time should be doubled when the weather is cloudy to achieve the same result.
In fact, we were able to use the smart watch in very varied conditions and in all weather. Regular users of a Fenix 6, we can see that the Solar version actually lasts longer.
How ? This is most difficult to determine of course, as the battery life varies depending on the use of the watch. In our case, with two to three physical activities per week (about 1 hour), and a few notifications activated, we achieved 12 days of use without recharging, two more than on our classic Fenix 6.
Our observations are therefore quite close to the numbers announced by the manufacturer. Mainly, the sports watch proves without rival when activating the energy saving mode. In this configuration the autonomy would vary from 48 to 80 days depending on use.
In other words, Garmin, which was already among the manufacturers of watches capable of delivering the best autonomy, has managed to improve further on this point.
We regret the lack of a “Sapphire” version for the Solar version. Indeed, the most resistant screen of the brand does not adapt well to the solar charging filter, at least for the moment.
Power management: Laborious menus
Adding a major function does not do everything, it is also necessary to give the user the means to appropriate it. However, managing Garmin solar charging does not simplify things for its users. A menu in the watch allows you to enter this functionality in detail. This is the “Power manager”. The purpose of Garmin is that everyone can be able to set the settings to ones needs and to be aware of the impact of every function on the autonomy of the watch.
If the intention is good, the execution leaves you free to apply whatever you want. Of course, it is possible to create your own user profiles by choosing which sensor should remain active. But the process is laborious and not intuitive for a penny. As for the predefined menus, they only give indication like this “Jacket mode” which only deactivates the cardio optical sensor.
For example it is unfortunately that we don’t have a real-time indication about activating an option or not. In all cases, we should validate the profile and refer to the estimated overall autonomy of the watch. It is a pity not having access to this power manager in the Garmin Connect application so we have to configure it using the five buttons on the watch.
Fenix: The perfect watch in the Market
In fact, this trail watch originally became a benchmark for “outdoor” activities. We will not go back to the monitoring of classic activities such as hiking, running or cycling. On these points the Fenix 6 Solar masters its subject as usual, aided by a particularly precise GPS and quality sensors.
To upload your datas to your PC: Using Garmin connect on your computer
The novelty of this 2020 version is the addition of activities that have also appeared in some other watches in the range according to their specialty.
This is the great advantage of the Fenix, which does not encumber itself with these kinds of subtleties and simply offers everything that Garmin does.
This year, therefore, the Fenix 6 is capable, in addition to the rest, ensuring a follow up for surfing, climbing and mountain biking.
Unfortunately, we were unable to test the first two activities.On the other hand, when it comes to mountain biking, we were totally excited about the new possibilities of the watch.These aren’t entirely new, as they appeared with the Edge 530 and 830 GPS cycling devices.
These new metrics assess the difficulty of a course (Grit), the fluidity of the descent (Flow), but also the quality of the jumps … For those who are able to do it! They mainly allow to analyze its exit a posteriori.
Indeed, on the Grit, the watch displays a score ranging from 0 to 60 which gives an idea of the complexity of a workout, whether by its length or by its technicality. In terms of flow, the consistency all along the course is what matters. In this case, it is about aiming for the lowest score which signifies that there is no excess intensity on the portions the most demanding of the course. In all cases, the measure is not only precise but also playful. As for the score, it is an effective way of stimulating motivation.
Note also that these new functions are not only reserved for the owners of Garmin’s latest craze. For the owners of Fenix of the last generation, the surfing or climbing analysis is found in the 10.10 version of firmware.
Verdict of the test
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar (47 mm)
- Garmin already had the most successful connected sports watch on the market with the Fenix 6. The “Solar” version does just as well as its predecessor, in all respects, and improves even further in terms of autonomy.
- Solar charging is an advantage but will only change the lives of ultra-trailers or the most frenzied athletes.
- For general public, this novelty will reduce watch charging time, especially for students and professionals who spend long hours outdoors.
- However, Garmin’s performance is remarkable and places the Fenix 6 Solar at the top of the hierarchy of connected sports watches.