Garmin Epix review: the ultimate adventure smartwatch? | Wearable technology

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Garmin’s latest luxury sports watch is a departure for the firm, which has swapped its usual low-power LCD for a fancy OLED screen, sacrificing battery life in the process. It better competes with the Apple Watch and its ilk, but are the trade-offs really worth it for an adventure-tracking smartwatch?

The Epix (gen 2) is a new line of expensive all-singing, all-dancing watches from Garmin costing from £799.99 ($899.99/A$1,399). They are built on the company’s Fenix 7 – the benchmark for these types of smartwatches – sharing its design, sensors, software and comprehensive navigation, sport and activity-tracking features.

The new watch comes in a single 47mm size with a 22mm-wide strap, but is available in a choice of colours and materials. It is certainly a big watch, but one that is comfortable to wear all day and night on my 50mm-wide wrist and will just fit under shirt cuffs.

a selection of watch faces shown on the Garmin Epix
Garmin has work to do on the pre-loaded watch faces that are clear but basic, lacking the polish you find from rivals with good screens. Third-party faces are available in the Connect IQ store. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It has the same great combination of touchscreen and buttons as the Fenix 7, but the difference in the screens is night and day: the OLED display is so much brighter, sharper, smoother and backlit all the time. The quality of the screen is a giant upgrade, making the watch face more colourful with finer elements and crisper details.

In common with OLED screens from competitors, to save battery the display dims but does not turn off completely when not actively being used and brightens when it detects it is being rotated towards you or touched.

Specifications

  • Screen: 1.3in AMOLED (416×416 pixels)

  • Case size: 47mm

  • Case thickness: 14.5mm

  • Band size: standard 22mm quick release

  • Weight: 47 or 53g body only

  • Storage: 16 or 32GB

  • Water resistance: 100 metres (10ATM)

  • Sensors: GNSS (GPS, Glonass, Galileo, BeiDuo, QZSS), compass, thermometer, HR, pulse Ox

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, wifi

Activity and sport-tracking

the post-run screens showing stats on heart rate, pace and fitness on a Garmin Epix
The sharper screen makes the more detailed widgets, graphs and end of activity stats clearer, while text and alerts are crisper with higher contrast making them easier to read. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

For indoor or night activities, such as circuits, gym workouts or evening runs, the OLED screen is easy to read because it is lit all the time, so doesn’t require a backlight to be turned on like you might on an LCD.

The screen is high-contrast and bright enough that on a sunny winter’s day in Britain it was fairly easy to read while running. It should be clear enough for most activities, but it will be harder to see in direct sunlight than the transflective LCD Garmins usually have, which becomes clearer the brighter the sun is.

map shown on the screen of the Garmin Epix
The higher-resolution screen means you can see more roads, tracks and features without having to zoom in or out on maps for navigation and route guidance during runs. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Epix has the same general health and advanced activity monitoring features as the Fenix 7, including offline maps and music, sleep, stress and recovery tracking, all-day heart rate and many others. It will track practically everything and has Garmin’s latest stamina-monitoring and improved GNSS location technology with “multi band GPS”. For more information, see the Fenix 7 review.

The watch connects to your phone via Bluetooth for basic message alerts, music control and data syncing, but can also sync directly to your Garmin account via built-in wifi or with a PC or Mac via the included USB cable. It has Garmin Pay for contactless purchases but UK bank support is limited.

Battery life

the back of the Garmin Epix watch showing the charging port
It takes one hour 44 minutes to fully charge the Epix via USB cable that clips into the four-pin socket on the back of the watch. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The OLED screen has a big impact on battery life. The Epix still lasts a long time for a smartwatch. The Apple Watch and similar competitors rarely last longer than 36 hours between charges, while the Epix manages just under six days and nights including about three hours of running, walking and other activity tracking. But that is far behind the 15-plus days and nights of the Fenix 7 under the same conditions.

The Epix will last up to 15 hours of running with the highest accuracy GNSS setting or up to 30 hours with just GPS enabled – long enough for a marathon or two, but eight and 27 hours short of the Fenix 7 respectively.

Sustainability

an image of the side of the titanium Garmin Epix
The titanium version of the watch has a more scratch-resistant sapphire screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Epix is generally repairable and replacement straps, cables and accessories are readily available. The battery is rated to last a few years of frequent charge cycles while maintaining at least 80-90% capacity and can be replaced through service. New watches do not contain recycled materials, but reconditioned products sold by Garmin may do.

Garmin offers trade-in schemes for some lines and complies with WEEE and other local electronics recycling laws.

Price

The Garmin Epix (gen 2) costs £799.99 ($899.99/A$1,399) in steel or £899.99 ($999.99/A$1,499) in titanium with a sapphire screen.

For comparison, the Fenix 7 starts at £599.99, the Venu 2 starts at £349.99, the Apple Watch Series 7 starts at £369 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 starts at £249.

Verdict

It is difficult to figure out who the Epix is really for. The Fenix 7 is the benchmark of adventure watches because not only is it capable of going anywhere and tracking anything, its battery also lasts a very long time.

The Epix has the first bit but not the second. There are benefits to having an OLED screen, particularly the way this expensive watch looks, and it still lasts 5-6 days between charges, but the knock on battery life compared to Garmin’s LCD-based versions is considerable.

The biggest problem for me is that having a good-looking screen sets certain expectations for the smartwatch features that the Garmin can’t quite fulfil. There’s no mic for a voice assistant or calls. Message alerts are basic and you can’t reply to them at all when used with an iPhone. Only very few, extremely limited third-party apps are available and even getting to basic features such as timers and alarms is clunky compared to an Apple or Samsung watch. But these limitations are shared by most Garmins, which hasn’t made them any less popular.

If you want a luxury sports watch with a fancy screen that is less about smart features and more about being a tool for adventures, the Epix delivers. But for most people the Fenix 7 or cheaper smartwatch competitors are probably a better buy.

Pros: tracks everything under the sun, 5+ day battery, cross-platform basic phone notifications, Garmin Pay, full offline mapping, offline Spotify, Bluetooth, wifi, 100m water resistance, real buttons, accurate GPS/GNSS, choice of materials.

Cons: expensive, big, limited Garmin Pay bank support, limited smartwatch features compared with Apple Watch/Galaxy Watch, no voice control, bettered on battery by Fenix 7.

the screen of the Epix shown fully lit on the left and in its dimmed ambient mode on the right
The screen of the Epix fully lit on the left and in its dimmed ambient mode on the right which activates when it is not in active use. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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