Tech Tock: Garmin GPS watches
Garmin is a relatively young company founded in 1989. It has become synonymous with global positioning satellite technology. For a time in the 90's, GPS units were the latest thing and were sprouting up suction cupped to windshields across America. Garmin, further demonstrating their authority, even made a GPS navigation focused phone, in collaboration with Asus. Back then there were several new companies making these devices, companies like Tom Tom, Navman, Magellan, Mio, Wayfinder, and others. Garmin has emerged from that crowd and is still a relative household name. It has survived even as demand declined for these devices (as more and more vehicles and smartphones gained GPS capabilities). The company earned real world credibility providing GPS solutions to the military during the Gulf War. But if Garmin was to survive on the retail battlefield, the company needed to find new markets for GPS technology. A breakthrough came in the form of wearable GPS technology (watches) called Forerunner which could be sold to sportsman and athletes alike. To the right is the Garmin Forerunner 610 the company's first touch screen enabled GPS watch. This device became a popular tool for runners utilizing GPS to track their progress. Along with a diverse array of products Garmin is finding new ways to integrate GPS and other technologies into watches. This article will focus briefly in words and pictures on Garmin's top of the line (at the time) GPS range of watches and talk about how they have created several variants that are purpose built for unique and specific customers.
These watches look similar but are made up of at least four variants. When I see products like this, that are fundamentally made of hardware that is the same, I am reminded of the Transformers "Seekers". For those who do not know, the Seekers were Transformers jets from the first generation of the toyline that were the same toy in several different paint schemes. From now on in this article I will refer to this group of watches affectionately as Garmin "Seekers". But this is my geeky term, not Garmin's. These watches, as you will see, are destined for different customers, utilizing custom software for different specialties. These "Seekers" are; the Fenix (the outdoors watch), the Tactix (the military inspired watch), the Quatix (the mariners watch) the D2 (the aviators watch). Even beyond this line Garmin has diversified with specific watches for golfers and swimmers as well. Very soon, there will be whole new crop of Garmin wearable technologies that will expand options even more with more featured top of the line watches with color screens and midrange devices designed to be stylish but functional activity trackers. Throughout the article, I will also touch upon the new crop of Garmin watches that have just been released!
The first watch I will discuss is the Fenix. It is perhaps the least specialized of this group of watches. That is not to take away from it, indeed this is likely to be the go-to watch of the group because it appeals to athletes and adventurers of all kinds. All the Garmin Seeker watches have a ton of features that they will have in common. To eliminate redundant redundancy I will list those features once here. Then in subsequent paragraphs describing the other Seekers I will only list the additional or unique features intrinsic to that specific watch. Pictured above is the slightly updated Fenix 2 (the second generation Fenix) It combines the best features of Garmin fitness and outdoor watches, and is the "ideal multisport athlete’s training partner." This watch, like all the seekers, has a 1.2" diameter monochrome liquid crystal display. This is not a touchscreeen but uses an intuitive pushbutton driven menu system to navigate options. It charges its battery and communicates with a computer via proprietary USB connector that attaches in the back. Battery life is up to 50 hours in GPS mode (depending on settings) and up to 5 weeks in watch mode. The Fenix is waterproof to 50 meters and has all the expected watch features like alarms, tones, vibration alerts, timer, stopwatch and world clock with the ability to display several times zones at once. It also has 20mb built in memory and can store 1000 waypoints and 50 routes at a time. The Fenix can track and log 10,000 points. It features a compass, hunting/fishing calendar, sun and moon information, tide tables, area calculation, and ability to add custom points of interest. The Garmin Fenix can share information wirelessly with similar units. It records a track log creating a GPS “bread crumb trail” as you move. It also allows you to mark waypoints, such as a start/finish line, course check point, or a campsite, vehicle or other point of interest. The Connected Smart Notification feature lets you receive emails, texts and alerts right on your watches screen via Bluetooth. The Fenix 2 can track your distance, pace, and heart rate. It contains sensors for altimeter, barometer, and compass. It auto-calibrates its ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass) sensors using its GPS receiver and also auto sets the time based on location. The built-in altimeter provides elevation data to accurately monitor ascent and descent, while the barometer can be used to predict weather changes by showing short-term trends in air pressure. The 3-axis electronic compass keeps your bearing whether you’re moving or not. The Fenix 2 like all these Seekers are dressed in a rugged yet handsome housing. These watches are somewhat large, but not larger than many watches with a fraction of their features. While not expressly a man's watch it may be too large to comfortably suit some women's wrists. This particular model features a reverse polarized red led backlight display and has an optional red rubber band.
As I stated, the above watch is the Fenix 2. Its sucessor, the Fenix 3 is pictured above and has already been revealed at CES (International Consumer Electronics Show) 2015. With the new EXO GPS antenna for an even faster lock on GPS satalites. Fenix 3 boasts features that support a full range of multisport activities, from advanced fitness training, to cross-country and alpine skiing, snowboarding, as well as hiking, climbing and trail running. It’s compatible with the Connect IQ store for even more smartwatch functionality and customization. Here are some examples of custom clock faces available from the Connect IQ store utilizing the color screens of theses next generation Garmin watches. Fenix 3 comes in three variations: Silver, Gray, and the premium Sapphire, which is not a blue color but instead features a scratch-resistant sapphire lens. With uncompromising details like a stainless steel bezel and sunlight-readable high-resolution color display, the Fenix 3 combines the GPS and wearable technology that Garmin is known for with a sleek new form factor that suits both the outdoors and the boardroom.
Now back to the Garmin Seekers. This next version is the stealthy, yet stylish looking Garmin Tactix rugged GPS Navigator. It features a bold tactical design and rugged all-black stylish color scheme. It's scratch-resistant, curved lens is rugged and prevents reflection. Negative mode liquid crystal display with green LED matte black and non-reflective with a green LED backlight that won’t compromise your position or flare out night vision. The Tactix is built to endure the roughest conditions. The Jumpmaster mode is invaluable to airborne operations. "Mr. Bond, your watch is ready."
Next up is the Quatix, who's name is seemingly derived from "Aquatic". The watch is designed for "avid mariners of all types, from dinghy racers and kayakers to power boaters and sailors". It is a high-sensitivity GPS navigator marine watch. It’s the only GPS-enabled device that provides an incredible range of marine navigation features including automatic MOB Man Overboard detection. Should a crewmember wearing a Quatix fall overboard, Quatix will automatically send an MOB alert to the chartplotter (requires GNT 10 NMEA Transceiver sold separately), Quatix can remotely control marine Garmin autopilot equipment so you can move around the deck of a power boat or sailboat while having information and control right on your wrist! A highly accurate watch, it also includes sailing features never before combined into a single watch, such as race countdown timer, virtual starting line, tack assist and tidal information. The quatix combines advanced sail racing tools for unparalleled awareness and a competitive edge during a racing competition. Quatix can easily set up a virtual starting line between two GPS waypoints. It then combines the starting line with the built-in countdown timer to calculate both distance to the line as well as desired speed and burn time available, which enables the vessel to cross the line at maximum speed at the exact starting time. Once the race has begun, the watch then switches to Tack Assist mode and indicates whether the vessel is getting headed or lifted based on the optimal tack angle provided and makes for a more efficient and controlled sailing experience. With HomePort marine planning software (sold separately) you can plan or review your adventures from your Windows or Mac OS computer. Create your course and download it to quatix. The Quatix is visually differentiated from the other Garmin seekers by a blue button and north and south markers on the face. The band is black or light grey. The display is designed for easy viewing in sunlight. The backlight is a bluish white.
This Seeker example is the Garmin D2. This watch is specifically designed for pilots. This watch breaks the naming conventions and I'm not sure what (if anything) D2 means. They could have called it Avionix or something, but I digress. The Garmin D2 is the first pilot watch to help you in-flight, boasting a high-sensitivity WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System, a form of aerial navigation aid), GPS receiver, altimeter with adjustable barometer settings, and 3-axis compass. It features brilliant orange backlight for night flights and has direct-to and Nearest buttons that use a worldwide airport database, displays multiple time zones with Zulu/UTC reference, various timers and vibrating alerts for inflight task reminders, and wirelessly receives flight plan information from Garmin Pilot software.
Going beyond watches Garmin now produces the VIRB which is an adventure camera like the Go Pro. These Garmin watches can actually remotley control the VIRB from your wrist utilizing their ANT wireless functionality.
Above, these Garmin Watches display their complete lack of fear of the water.
Here you can see the difference reversed polarizing display makes. The Quatix (left) has a bezel around the screen that almost blends in with the display the all the other Seekers have a black bezel.
This photo shows two Fenix 2s one is a Special Edition with a red band. The Quatix has a large blue button on the side while the D2's is orange. Note each of these have differing tactile details on the two round menu buttons.
The Seekers offer specifically colored bands. You can also buy them separately as accessories and mix and match them. A genuine leather stitched band is available as well that looks great but is not as waterproof as the rubber. Garmin also offers an accessory a caribiner option that forgoes the bands altogether in favor of a rugged clip-on form factor.
Here the Garmin Seekers show their variations in display design and backlight. Not pictured here (unfortunately) is the Tactix which features a cool reverse polarized green backlit display.
The screens are clear, large and dynamic enough to display a wide variety of information.
The two red led illuminated screens look very different depending on the polarization of the liquid crystal display. The screen can be tweaked with adjustments to the backlight brightness and the contrast. In this photo you can even make out the pixels that form the text on the Quatix in the forefront.
The Seeker watches feature a long lasting rechargeable battery. It is charged through this specific cradle which also serves as a USB hub for communicating with a computer.
This is Garmin new Epix. It is Garmin's new flagship and a first-of-its-kind, rugged GPS mapping watch for outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for a hands-free navigator. Featuring a 1.4” high-resolution color touchscreen, Epix comes preloaded with a worldwide shaded relief basemap, a free 1-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, plus 8 GB of built-in memory for additional maps. Epix boasts an omni-directional EXO steel antenna with GPS and GLONASS (Short for Global Navigation Satellite System, GLONASS is a Russian satellite-based navigation system that works alongside GPS to provide position information to compatible devices. With an additional 24 satellites to utilize, GLONASS compatible receivers can acquire satellites up to 20% faster than devices that rely on GPS alone) Support for a quick fix and accurate position, as well as traditional altimeter/barometer/compass functionality. Epix is also compatible with ANT+ sensors like heart rate monitors and Tempe temperature sensor for even more data. Additionally, Epix supports the Connect IQ store for customization and smartwatch capabilities. With a full menu of outdoor and navigation features, Epix allows users to not only track where they’ve been, but plan for what’s ahead, right from their wrist.
Garmin's new midrange GPS activity trackers are called Vivoactive watches. They are a lightweight and ultra-thin GPS smartwatch with built-in sports and activity tracking apps. Helping users develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, Vívoactive captures more activities with GPS-enabled running, cycling, golfing, swimming and activity tracking apps. Vívoactive is comfortable for all day wear and smart notifications keep users connected with pressing work matters, family and friends. With the new Connect IQ store, users can easily customize Vívoactive with free watch face designs, widgets and additional apps. Vívoactive features a sunlight-readable, high-resolution color touchscreen and can be accessorized with interchangeable bands to complement any outfit or occasion
Garmin's least expensive activity trackers are called Vivofit 2 they are designed to help users develop lifelong healthy habits. In addition to the visual "move bar" on its always-on display, Vivofit 2 also features audible alerts that remind users when it’s time to get up and move. An activity timer allows users to track and analyze individual workouts, and a newly added backlight provides better visibility in the dark. To satisfy a wide variety of fashion preferences, Vivofit 2 can be accessorized with interchangeable design options. The Style Collection includes chic and classic looks from the Signature Series made from premium materials, such as leather and stainless steel.
These Garmin watches are not meant to compete with Apple Watch or the other wave of Smartwatches from Android. These watches deliver loads of useful, pragmatic functions specializing in GPS. With a new crop of smartwatches already on the way (even many from Garmin), I still prefer these simple monochrome display watches that are likely the last of their kind. They may not allow you to browse the internet from your wrist, but what they do, they do very well.
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