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Review of the flagship smartwatch Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Sapphire Solar for athletes and travelers

20.11.2023 11:35

Specifications

  • Screen: touch, round, color transreflective, 1.3″, 260×260, with built-in solar battery
  • SoC: not reported
  • RAM: not reported
  • Storage capacity: 32 GB
  • Compatibility: iOS, Android
  • Speaker: indication only
  • Microphone: no
  • Connectivity and Internet: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+
  • Cellular network: no
  • Sensors: accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, gyroscope, altimeter, barometer, 3-axis electronic compass, pulse oximeter, ambient light sensor, thermometer
  • Satellite navigation: GPS, Glonass, Galileo (+ loaded Outdoor Maps+ and TopoActive)
  • No camera
  • Physical flashlight
  • Protection: MIL-STD-810 (10 ATM)
  • Battery life: up to 18 days (up to 22 days when recharging from the sun)
  • Dimensions (without strap): 47x47x14.5 mm
  • Weight (with strap): 73 g

What immediately catches your eye is the unusual screen, the presence of an ANT+ communication interface (needed to connect a professional heart rate meter and other sports devices), military-grade protection and an impressive list of sensors. We'll talk about all the features, but let's get acquainted with the device «live».

Equipment

The watch box is relatively small and does not at all pretend to be “premium”

The watch box is relatively small and does not at all pretend to be “premium”

Inside, the watch is located in a cardboard slot and is reliably protected from possible impacts during transportation (however, given the degree of protection, impacts are not dangerous for them).

Inside, the watch is located in a cardboard slot and is reliably protected from possible impacts during transportation (however, given the degree of protection, impacts are not dangerous for them).

The equipment is the most modest. Again, no extras typical of flagship devices: no alternative strap or anything else. Only a cable for charging and connecting to a computer (with a USB-C plug) and paper support.

The equipment is the most modest. Again, no extras typical of flagship devices: no alternative strap or anything else. Only a cable for charging and connecting to a computer (with a USB-C plug) and paper support.

Design and screen

At first glance, the design of these watches does not reveal their high cost. In appearance, they seem to be ordinary sports men's watches, and without knowing the exact price, you can’t even imagine how expensive they are. However, the owner knows with confidence that this is not an ordinary watch: its case is made of titanium, the screen is protected by sapphire glass and is equipped with a solar battery.

This battery works very simply: when the watch is exposed to the sun and direct sunlight hits the display, the battery begins to recharge. This increases the battery life of the watch on a single charge. This principle can greatly help when hiking. For example, when walking in open areas in the summer, when the watch is exposed to direct sunlight, it can charge. The Garmin Connect app even shows statistics on how much sunlight the watch was charging on a given day.

However, results may vary greatly depending on the time of year and conditions of use. For example, in the fall when testing was conducted, charging efficiency may be poor due to less sunlight and the watch being hidden under clothing more often. Despite this, recharging still occurs.

This battery works very simply: when the watch is exposed to the sun and direct sunlight hits the display, the battery begins to recharge. This increases the battery life of the watch on a single charge. This principle can greatly help when hiking. For example, when walking in open areas in the summer, when the watch is exposed to direct sunlight, it can charge. The Garmin Connect app even shows statistics on how much sunlight the watch was charging on a given day.

However, results may vary greatly depending on the time of year and conditions of use. For example, in the fall when testing was conducted, charging efficiency may be poor due to less sunlight and the watch being hidden under clothing more often. Despite this, recharging still occurs.

The screen of this watch, of course, is touch-sensitive, but it is possible to disable touch response and control it using buttons — fortunately there are many of them. This is important in certain use cases. For example, when swimming in a body of water, in the rain while hiking, or when the watch is deep in your sleeve and you need to set the route marker by touch, physical buttons become a more convenient option, and the touch screen can only get in the way.

Disabling touch and button response also gives you more confidence in operating your device in environments where the screen may be difficult to use due to external factors such as water, rain, or clothing.

This battery works very simply: when the watch is exposed to the sun and direct sunlight hits the display, the battery begins to recharge. This increases the battery life of the watch on a single charge. This principle can greatly help when hiking. For example, when walking in open areas in the summer, when the watch is exposed to direct sunlight, it can charge. The Garmin Connect app even shows statistics on how much sunlight the watch was charging on a given day.

However, results may vary greatly depending on the time of year and conditions of use. For example, in the fall when testing was conducted, charging efficiency may be poor due to less sunlight and the watch being hidden under clothing more often. Despite this, recharging still occurs.

The screen of this watch, of course, is touch-sensitive, but it is possible to disable touch response and control it using buttons — fortunately there are many of them. This is important in certain use cases. For example, when swimming in a body of water, in the rain while hiking, or when the watch is deep in your sleeve and you need to set the route marker by touch, physical buttons become a more convenient option, and the touch screen can only get in the way.

Disabling touch and button response also gives you more confidence in operating your device in environments where the screen may be difficult to use due to external factors such as water, rain, or clothing.

If we look at the screen, the Start/Stop (top) and Back/Lap (bottom) buttons are located on the right. The Start/Stop button is especially useful because it functions as Enter or Confirm in most applications. Between these buttons there are holes for the speaker and microphone.

On the Fenix 7, the top button on the left side has another cool feature: double-pressing it activates the flashlight. This watch breaks the standard ideas about the Flashlight function. In many smartwatches, the Flashlight feature usually displays a white field on the screen with the backlight at maximum brightness. However, in reality, this option is only useful in complete darkness and serves to provide some illumination (for example, to find a phone on the nightstand or sneakers under the bed).

Instead, the Garmin Fenix 7 offers an actual physical flashlight. It is located on the top of the bezel and is directed towards the strap, and when the watch is worn, the strap does not block the light of the flashlight.

The flashlight light in the Fenix 7 is really powerful and bright, it is clearly visible even in well-lit rooms, and in the dark it easily replaces the flashlight function on a smartphone. This turns out to be incredibly convenient and useful even in everyday life. Especially for those who deal with summer cottages or love hiking. It can be useful for everything from finding tools in the basement and shed to lighting the attic or starting a fire in the parking lot. In such cases, when both hands are busy or you don’t want to use a smartphone, this is a really convenient option.

However, be aware that using a flashlight can quickly drain the watch's battery. Therefore, it is better to limit prolonged use of the flashlight. But it is worth considering that using a flashlight on a smartphone also consumes its power. On a hike, if you have a choice between saving your phone's power or your watch's, it's often a smarter decision to save your watch's charge.

The watch we tested had a screen protected by sapphire crystal, and even after three weeks of fairly active use, not a single scratch appeared on it. As for the case materials, the metal bezel around the display, the back cover and the strap loops were made of titanium. The rest of the watch is fiber-reinforced polymer. The strap was made of silicone and had many holes, which made it possible to firmly fix the watch on the hand. Besides the silicone strap, there are other options for this model.

The watch was painted jet black, but the bezel and surrounds were slightly different in tone and feel. There were no time marks on the bezel, but there were small inscriptions next to the physical buttons, which helped the user quickly get used to their functionality.

In general, this is an example of a sporty men's style — maybe a little boring in appearance, but 100% reliable. The watch is certified according to the military standard MIL-STD-810 and can be immersed in water to a depth where a pressure of 10 atmospheres is reached (about 100 m) .

Smartphone connection and functionality

To connect the watch to your smartphone, you need to install the Garmin Connect application (it is available both in the App Store and in the Google Play Store). If you want to use third-party apps and watch faces, you'll also have to download Garmin Connect IQ. It is not entirely clear why their capabilities cannot be combined in a single application, but the manufacturer is confident that this is more convenient.

Third-party applications include audio streaming clients, but you can simply download music as files to the watch. And so-called data fields are also available through Garmin IQ. These are sort of alternative watch faces that work within specific workouts and show you the information you need in real time. Simply put, if you're, say, a cycling enthusiast, and you're not happy with what's displayed on your screen during a workout in the default app, you can find an alternative.

Interestingly, the space for third-party applications is very limited: you can only install 33 applications. On the other hand, this amount seems to be sufficient for any user who uses the watch to solve specific tasks. And the choice of applications and other add-ons is quite large: Garmin has created a whole community of programmers around its products.

Now let's talk about the main application — Garmin Connect. It accumulates all the data about your physical condition, training, as well as about the device itself (including a lot of settings; in this regard, the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro is one of the most flexible smartwatch models we have ever seen).

A user's daily results are assessed based on a variety of indicators, after which you can view a summary picture for both that day and the month. Interesting and atypical is the concept of Body Battery. It's about analyzing wasted energy (both physical and emotional — for example, as a result of stress) and recovery. The idea is very good, the implementation is imperfect. So, the clock counted almost constant stress for us during our holidays, on weekends. (In reality, of course, there was no non-stop stress.)

Based on the training sessions themselves, the watch collects the most detailed information – that’s why it’s a professional tool. In addition, during the training process, Fenix 7 Pro warns about possible fatigue, and can also create a training plan based on the speed of your recovery from the activities you have already completed.

All this, of course, needs to be checked by professional athletes, who themselves know very well the capabilities of the body and can correlate their own sensations with the watch data. But we note that such options are announced in principle and, theoretically, actually work.

As for the interface of the watch itself, at first it seems unusual. For example, there is no general menu of applications and workouts. To find what you need, you need to click on the Start/Stop button and then scroll down and select “Add”. And in it you can already add the activity or some other option that you need. The question arises: why was this done? Understanding comes when you start using the same workout regularly. You no longer need to look for it somewhere: one click on Start/Stop, then one click on the desired workout (previously added) — and that’s it.

At the same time, there is quick access to a number of standard applications and settings: to do this, you need to press and hold the top left navigation button. If you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, an information panel will open — it will contain information about the weather, sunset, your recovery after a workout, and so on.

An important component of the device’s functionality is navigation. Here you can use a variety of modes. For example, set a point on the map and use the watch as a navigator. Or, on the contrary, mark the place where you are now, and then return to this place hourly (very important for mushroom pickers, hunters, berry gatherers — in general, everyone who walks far into the forest). Or you can simply track your route (in fact, this is an analogue of the “Walking” workout). The watch is already loaded with detailed maps. In the screenshot below, pay attention to their volume.

Within the scope of this article, it is, of course, impossible to describe all the capabilities of such a complex professional device, but let’s pay attention to those components that are truly unusual. There is, for example, the “Fishing Forecast” application, which shows periods of optimal biting. There is a function for yachtsmen “Drop anchor”. There is an “Expedition” mode, designed for multi-day trips (all sensors are turned off in it, but the location is recorded every hour).

To be fair, we also note what is missing, despite the generally broad functionality. There is no ECG measurement, although in smartwatches from other manufacturers this capability is already the norm. You cannot answer a call using the watch itself. That is, you will be able to accept a call, but to talk, you will still have to reach for the phone. And when messages arrive during training, only the recipient's name is displayed in a pop-up window, but not the text itself. Therefore, again, you will have to take out your smartphone to understand how important and urgent this message is. And finally, you won’t be able to add Russian cards, even old Mastercard and Visa, to “Wallet” (an application for payment via Garmin Pay).

One more thing: Mac users may experience that the watch does not want to connect to the Garmin Express app for MacOS. If you have the Android File Transfer app installed (and you almost certainly have it if you've used Android devices), then when you connect the Fenix 7 Pro to your Mac using the bundled cable, a window immediately appears listing the contents of the watch's memory — that's exactly Android File Transfer. On the one hand, it’s very convenient — you can immediately copy screenshots from there, for example, or download music. But Garmin Express will not work. The solution to the problem is to force close Android File Transfer after the watch is connected (and not just close the window, but click “Finish”) and try to start Garmin Express again.

In principle, you can safely use the watch without connecting it to a PC. But some things are more convenient to do on a large computer — download maps, view the full list of installed applications (and remove unnecessary ones), add music, or evaluate your progress and health data. To do this, a web interface opens, where all the information is collected in cards.

Autonomous operation

The manufacturer claims that in standard mode (with sensors enabled by default) the watch can operate for up to 18 days. It is quite difficult to check this indicator due to the many components that affect battery consumption. However, judging by the general sensations, this stated operating time seems reliable. With intensive use, frequent use of GPS for outdoor training and heavy use of a flashlight, of course, battery life is significantly reduced.

However, even with such loads, the device can easily withstand a hike for several days. Under normal circumstances, it is not necessary to keep a charger with you at all times.

Conclusions

So, Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Sapphire Solar is a device that is advanced and specialized. Although it is capable of performing most of the functions found in a smartwatch, buying this model simply on a «why not» basis may not be worthwhile. It does not pretend to be universal. However, this model has a clearly defined target audience: athletes, travelers and lovers of an active outdoor lifestyle. It is for these users that the Fenix 7 Pro Sapphire Solar watch will be indispensable in many respects.

This watch has exceptional durability (shockproof, drop-proof, waterproof), button-only control (you can disable the touch screen if necessary), a wide range of workouts with a maximum amount of information, including recovery recommendations and forecasts. In addition, they offer benefits for travelers and beyond: a variety of navigation options, a color transreflective display with a built-in solar panel, and long battery life on a single charge.

Despite the identified shortcomings and oddities, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the buyer’s choice. Such devices are purchased by those who really understand why they need it. In this case, even specific features will not become a hindrance, given the lack of alternatives with comparable capabilities.