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Gadget of the Week

This watch spells action

An active smartwatch that automatically charges in sunlight is a boon for outdoor enthusiasts, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

What is it?

Garmin’s Fēnix 7S Sapphire Solar takes multisport smartwatch performance to a new level, with a combination of astonishing battery life and solar charging. 

The latter means that, for regular long-distance runners, battery life becomes irrelevant. With well over a week packed into the battery – Garmin says up to 11 days – solar charging can add another 3 days to give two full weeks. This compares to my Fitbit Sense having to be recharged every 3 or 4 days.

The 7S also offers a GPS mode – along with GLONASS and Galileo navigation – which can cut battery life down to a day and a half, but again, solar charging can extend that by another 9 hours.

The watch is rugged, styled for smaller-sized wrists, and has a scratch-resistant display. The screen is in fact a Power Sapphire 1.2-inch solar charging lens that draws on the sun’s energy to boost the battery.

It uses both touchscreen and buttons – no less than five. However, that adds enormously to the complexity of using the device.

It has a few other firsts, too: a feature called PacePro provides running coaching that takes account of the terrain, helping one keep on pace with grade-adjusted guidance while running a course.

Mountain bikers have access to specialised Grit and Flow measurements that rate trail difficulty and how smoothly one descends. Surfers will love the Surfline Sessions feature, which creates a video of every wave one ride in front of a Surfline camera. That does, however, require a subscription. 

On the plus side, it caters for numerous activities, with preloaded activity profiles including trail running, swimming, running, biking, hiking, rowing, skiing, golfing, surfing, indoor climbing and high-intensity interval training.

It includes training metrics like heat- and altitude-adjusted VO2 max, trail running adjustment, and a recovery time advisor. It even accounts for training intensity and factors such as stress, daily activity and sleep.

Most impressively, it offers the full ABC of sensors: an altimeter for elevation data, a barometer to monitor weather, and a 3-axis electronic compass. This underlines the target market of the watch as a serious outdoor enthusiast.

That said, golfers may also be attracted by the access it gives to full-colour CourseView maps of more than 42,000 golf courses around the world. It enhances the experience with the PlaysLike Distance feature, which guides a shot based on whether the target is uphill or downhill.

Mapping is deeply integrated, with both current location and preloaded TopoActive Maps from around the world. Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity allows loading and updating maps on the go, with POI checkpoints included.

Not surprisingly, it goes further in standard metrics, like optical heart rate technology, which gauges activity intensity as well as Heart Rate Variability to calculate one’s stress level. A Pulse Ox2 sensor uses light beams at the wrist to gauge how well one’s body is absorbing oxygen, for both altitude acclimation and sleep monitoring. A sleep score gives a full breakdown of light, deep and REM sleep stages. 

It even takes logging of daily fluid intake further: one can see estimated sweat loss after an activity, and adjust one’s goal accordingly.

Women can use the Garmin Connect app to track their menstrual cycles or pregnancy, with symptom-logging as well as exercise and nutrition education.

As with most cutting edge smartwatches, it allows songs to be downloaded from music streaming apps, contactless payment through Garmin Pay, and built-in incident detection when, for example, one has a fall.

Custom watch faces can be downloaded, and data fields added – if there weren’t already enough to do on the device.

What does it cost?

R17,499. No, that isn’t a misprint.

Why should you care?

The average activity tracking smartwatch may appear to have added as many features as anyone would need, but the Fēnix 7S shows just how much more can be integrated for specific requirements. Many of the features are unique to the device, while combinations of others provide insights that have not been available on a personal device before.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • One of the most expensive smartwatches on the market.
  • With a touchscreen display and 5 control buttons, it has a steep learning curve to get to grips with even half its features.
  • Emails, texts and alert notifications are unnecessarily aggressive, increasing stress levels for example when winding down for sleep.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Multiple frequencies for navigation satellites offers improved position accuracy.
  • The vast amount of feature combinations allows one to customise activities down to the most personal of fine-tuning.
  • It enhances standard activity watch features like water-logging and sleep monitoring to new levels of insight.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee. 

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