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. Unsurprisingly, the one that benefits the most is the Fénix 6 Solar, which has taken another step forward in terms of autonomy. However, adding this feature comes at a cost and it is probably not trivial 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?
The Fenix 6 better?
It is not insulting the expertise of Garmin engineers to say that they have kept a good part of the Fenix 6 in the development of its Solar version. In fact, the two products are similar in many ways and the bulk of the work has consisted of integrating homemade solar charging into the most complete watch in the catalog. Since we 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 strongly advise you to reread our test before taking a serious interest in the Solar version.
A screen like no other
While on most high-end connected watches, AMOLED reigns supreme, Garmin favors a less consensual technology, the LCD. This is a perfectly accepted choice on the part of the manufacturer, which here targets athletes more than aesthetes.
In fact, 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 vision of the information on the screen, to have to struggle with his watch or to have 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 on a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.
Finally, the other major criterion for users is that their high-end sports watch can follow them on long trips, or failing that, it does not need to be recharged every two days. Again, this type of LCD, which requires less light resources, better meets the battery life requirements of a Garmin.
Focus on Garmin “solar” technology
Now we come to Solar technology. This is certainly the great novelty of this new edition of the Fénix 6. It is actually a filter which is applied to the dial and which functions as a solar window. That is to say that between two layers of glass making up the screen of the watch (including the protective one in Gorilla Glass), Garmin has added another layer of horizontal bands of acrylic glass so as to redirect the perceived light towards cells. solar. This technology was developed by a French company based in Aix-en-Provence and which has since been acquired and integrated into 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 dwelling a little on the Fénix 6 Solar, it is possible to perceive a slight copper band around the rim of the dial. This more opaque area is the most efficient in terms of energy recovery, since it alone harvests 80 to 90% of it.
Concretely, this solar recharge is not an additional battery in the watch that would be consumed once the main battery is flat. It is also not an independent battery. In any case, the solar energy captured does not do without conventional recharging. In reality, Solar technology should be seen as a range extender, variable depending on the light conditions. Indeed, Garmin considers that 3 hours of exposure to the sun at 50,000 Lux (a sunny day) can increase battery life by 3 days. Double this exposure time when the weather is cloudy to achieve the same result.
In fact, we were able to use the 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 many ? 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 (approximately 1 hour), and a few activated notifications, we achieved 12 days of use without recharging, two more than on our classic Fenix 6. Our observations are therefore quite close to the figures announced by the manufacturer. Above all, 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. One regret, however: 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 is not everything, it is also necessary to empower the user to appropriate it. However, in the management of solar charging Garmin does not simplify things for its users. A menu in the watch allows you to enter this functionality in detail. This is the “feed manager”. Garmin’s desire is for everyone to be able to configure the watch as they wish and to be aware of the impact of each function on the autonomy of the watch.
If the intention is good, the execution leaves something to be desired. 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 give little indication like this “jacket mode” which only deactivates the cardio optical sensor.
It is, for example, unfortunate that there is no real-time indication of whether or not to activate an option. In all cases, you must validate the profile and refer to the estimate of the overall autonomy of your watch. Just as it is a shame not to have access to this power manager on the Garmin Connect application and to have to configure it using the five buttons on the watch.
The most complete watch on the market
Garmin’s flagship already has a solid reputation as a multisport watch. Indeed, this trail watch originally has become 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.
The novelty of this 2020 version is the addition of activities that have also appeared on a few 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 Garmin does. This year, therefore, the Fenix 6 is capable, in addition to the rest, of following up for surfing, climbing and mountain biking. To our regret, we were unable to test the first two activities. On the other hand, when it comes to mountain biking, we were quite excited about the new capabilities of the watch. These are not entirely new, they have appeared with the Edge 530 and 830 bicycle GPS 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 can do it! Above all, they allow us 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. When it comes to Flow, it is consistency throughout the journey that is valued. In this case, it is, on the contrary, to aim for the lowest score meaning that there was no excess of intensity on the most demanding parts of the track. In all cases, the measurement is not only precise but also fun. As for the score, it is an effective way to generate motivation.
Note, however, that these new features are not reserved for owners of Garmin’s latest craze. For owners of previous generation Fenixs, the analysis of surfing or even climbing can be found on firmware version 10.10.