Garmin has continually improved its GPS smart watches over the years to reach the most recent Fenix 5X Plus, which could be the best GPS watch ever made.
While this watch lives up to its name by offering impressively accurate GPS data, it's so much more.
To understand this we need to think about how the Garmin watches fit into the worlds of sports and tech. The watches started as GPS specialists and so still offer some of the most accurate tracking, making them ideal for runners, cyclists, hikers and now lots more thanks to multi-sport support.
Then along came smartwatches and the Garmin GPS watches started adding notifications. Then it was music onboard, maps, contactless payments and both heart rate and oxygen tracking.
The Fenix line now represents a fashion statement that can be worn all day, tracking activity, as well as at night, tracking sleep. It'll store music and connect to Bluetooth headphones without your phone and even lets you make contactless payments. Connected a smartphone and you get notifications too, just like a smartwatch. So how can this be improved for the Fenix 6?
What we want to see
Garmin doesn't follow a standard release cycle like a lot of other gadget manufacturers. Instead it takes its time to create the next product based on what's actually needed.
Essentially it only makes a new device if it's needed. So is the Fenix 6 needed? And if so, how?
1. Better build and design
One of the most obvious ways Garmin could take its Fenix watches to the next level would be with design. While the Fenix 5X Plus is a great looking bit of kit, it's pretty massive. In our review it was certainly too big to be used as a sleep tracker, unless you don't mind waking up with a black eye, of course. Even for running this is a weighty bit of kit to fit comfortably while still clinging tightly enough for heart rate tracking.
By comparison Garmin has kept a more plastic build for its Forerunner line, which is runner and triathlete focused. The Fenix 5S Plus is smaller but it means sacrificing features. So hopefully Garmin has managed to find a halfway sweet spot for the top-end Fenix 6 which won't sacrifice any features but will still manage to slim down.
A new screen that's brighter and offers more colors would be a nice too – but we'd expect a size improvement to take priority here as the current display does the job well enough and saves on battery.
2. More contactless payment compatibility
In its current state Garmin Pay, which lets you tap to pay using your Fenix, is useful for only some people. Certain cards can be paired with the Garmin Pay system leaving some banks out. The result is that, short of changing your bank, you may not be able to even use this feature right now.
For the Fenix 6, Garmin could announce wider integration of more banks and payment systems that allow everyone to enjoy the useful feature. Perhaps the integration of PayPal could be a great and simple way to solve this problem and make this feature useful for all.
3. Network connectivity
GPS watches are becoming more like smartwatches with stand alone features like music storage, payment systems and mapping. So why not get rid of the phone totally and add network connectivity? While this will likely be 3G to start with, it may get a 4G and even 5G upgrade in the future.
This will impact battery but perhaps Garmin can implement a system where the network is only activated when needed – keeping connected but while remaining efficient. It would certainly be a nice feature for those explorers that go off into nature and still want to leave the phone at home yet feel safe.
4. Better music services onboard
While the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus does offer music onboard it's still not a simple enough to use system. Expect the Fenix 6 to add greater support for more services and easier access to them both from the app and the watch itself. The watch stores music files, but moving them – if you even own any these days – is a hassle.
While Spotify has made its way to the 5X Plus already, it's still not easy enough to use. Expect this to improve and for more services like Google Play Music and even higher quality Tidal to get onboard too.
5. Control your smart home
Just as smartwatches let you better control the smart home and wider internet of things gadgets, so too will the Fenix 6… we hope. This should mean location activated features, like turning on the heating and lights when your run or ride is taking you close to home.
This could also mean greater controls using voice and a microphone. While that's a push, it would mean that the Fenix 6 can integrate a voice assistant like Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.
Then it could be used to touch-free control devices on an already well-built platform that Garmin easily taps into. This could be a nice way to control the watch too, asking for running data to be read out as you run, with Bluetooth headphones on, for example.
6. Google Maps integration
The Fenix 5X Plus has already begun to offer usable mapping and navigation systems. The next step is to pull in the already near-perfect Google Maps to add another layer of navigation.
This will allow you to use your phone to throw routes to your watch and have guidance based training taken to another level with far greater accuracy and adaptability. This service combined with Garmin's huge amount of sensor data could work well to improve both their offerings in one synergetic super system.
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