Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015, smartwatches were unsurprisingly a dominating area of new products from both establishes companies and ones new to the game. Garmin looks to be leading the pack with an unprecedented array of new smartwatches ranging from the top-of-the-line Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire and Epix, to the various "Vivo" products (vivofit 2, vivosmart, vivoactive) that are wearable activity tracking and notification bracelets. More on those in a bit.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases
Garmin vivofit Style Collection Signature Series

An initial inspection of what was debuted in terms of smartwatches at CES 2015 doesn't actually show huge amounts of technological innovation, but rather a great focus on fitness wearables and products that people who are even remotely design conscious want to wear. One lesson that brands are learning is that wearables that merely serve as phone notification devices aren't extremely interesting. Having said that, companies are still including phone notification functions into even their most simple products. More so, whether you want a wearable device to sit next to your watch or in place of a traditional watch - companies have you covered. Garmin's line up also focuses on men as well as women. The message for me is that Garmin knows it has strength in the smartwatch market, but still has no idea what products will stick with consumers.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases

Having said that, Garmin is no novice to wearable devices. The company's Forerunner GPS watches have been around since before the "smartwatch" term was invented, and in many ways, they were producing connected sport watches competing with other companies who never seemed to understand that the data a watch collected (or displayed) should be shared with other devices, etc... For 2015, Garmin has improved its range, while adding more options for people who don't want to be seen wearing a bulky GPS watch. Also, they don't all have GPS features, of course.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases
Garmin vivoactive watch in black and white.

Everyone is still chasing what the Apple Watch might mean to the market when it is released later in 2015. For me, that means the smartwatch as a product will not "mature" into an established segment that consumers fully understand until 2016 or 2017. Right now, the smartwatch market is still trying to not only establish itself, but make sense to consumers. Investors as well as budget allocators inside big companies seem to be sold on the future of the smartwatch, and so now, companies need to produce families of products that appeal to more than just niche consumers - like those interested in particular sports or the promise of activity tracking health benefits.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases

In the scheme of niche appeal, fitness-themed devices are pretty mainstream. Enough people like having watches that offer information while engaging in certain sports (running, cycling, hiking, etc...), and still more like the idea of fitness tracking watches that can help motivate them to work out in the first place. Note that while these are related types of products, they are very different. For 2015, Garmin has released some of each, as well as products that blend the lines.

I am not going to discuss all of what Garmin released in the wearable segment at CES 2015 because frankly there is so much product diversity, I don't understand it all myself. Perhaps that is because Garmin is following the Apple "many choices for many people" lead with the many Garmin vivofit 2 watches, as well as their Garmin vivofit 2 Style collection pieces. Here you have not one or two models, but almost 20 versions that contain the same hardware but different colors or exteriors. These are just activity trackers, and you can move up a bit to the Garmin vivosmart that includes phone notifications as well. All of these are budget priced at under $200 - at least most of them are. They are interesting, but not where my main attention is right now.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases
Garmin vivoactive white

Garmin vivoactive - the affordable fitness smartwatch

It isn't particularly sexy, but the Garmin vivoactive is one of the most promising mainstream consumer smartwatches of CES 2015. From a design perspective it still looks like a blocky case on a strap in a stale colored black (white is available as well), but from a hardware perspective, it really packs a lot of punch with activity tracking sensors, precision GLONASS GPS, and of course, Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your phone. The slew of features which builds on years of Garmin experience in the Garmin vivoactive is about trying to combine three things; a phone notification smartwatch, a fitness tracking watch with dedicated software that can connect to Garmin Connect and does things like tracking steps, movement, sleep, etc., as well as dedicated sport features specialized for activities such as swimming, running cycling, and golfing. The Garmin vivoactive also has an optional heart rate monitor that goes around your torso. Garmin even claims it is durable enough to swim with - which is more than the Apple Watch can claim at launch.

The Garmin vivoactive watch is more fitness watch than smartwatch, but it does combine both sets of features with a colorful touchscreen display in a way that is more mainstream friendly than anything I've seen yet. Without a full review of the Garmin vivoactive, it will be difficult to say just how well it works, but it is interesting to see what Garmin is doing. Again - no new serious technology here, but rather an attempt to cleverly arrange elements and features in ways that appeal to consumers and make the best out of existing technology. Price for the Garmin vivoactive is $249 - $299.

Garmin epix - the mapping and hiking sports watch with apps

At more than double the price of the vivoactive and other "vivo" collection watches, the Garmin epix is the hiking and adventure watch of the 21st century - at least that is what Garmin is going for with this feature packed "ultimate training" watch that combines a lot of the interesting GPS mapping tools Garmin is known for with ABC sensors (altimeter, barometer, and compass), smartwatch notifications, and the ability to use the Garmin Connect IQ app store - which can dramatically alter the functionality and utility of the watch.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases
Garmin epix

With a more durable (and actually pretty cool) design than the Garmin vivoactive, the Garmin Epix also adds to the fitness activity functions. Garmin does not suggest the Garmin epix is a daily wear watch, but rather for serious outdoor adventure or sport - but you could wear it daily, sure. The Garmin epix contains a GLONASS GPS and a slew of hardware and software designed for basic activity tracking or for data nerds who want to improve their running, cycling, skiing, swimming, and hiking.

What you need to understand about the Garmin epix over, say, a smartphone is that it has built in detailed mapping features. The 8 gigs of internal memory come loaded with either worldwide or US-only maps and topographical data. I am not sure if this includes detailed street maps as well. The idea is that you have full mapping functionality in places were your mobile phone would not be able to get a connection and use maps data from, say, Google.

With that said, the Garmin epix is still a smartwatch in the sense that it offers phone notification information and the ability to do simple things like control your phone's music player, etc... What ups the ante for the Garmin epix is really the Garmin Connect IQ app support which can offer cosmetic enhancements like new watch faces as well as additional widgets and data fields. The Garmin epix also sports a color touchscreen - but also has pushers on the sides of the case. This should prove to be a very interesting outdoors watch for a lot of people - with some interesting smartwatch features and an app store. Price of the Garmin epix is $549 - $599.

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases
Garmin Fenix 3 Watch CES 2015 Line-up

Garmin fenix 3 - the best sports smartwatch to date?

Garmin figured out long ago that consumers like having the option between round and square screens on their watches. The Garmin fenix collection gets its third iteration with the 2015 Garmin fenix 3, just one year after the Garmin fenix 2. The Garmin fenix 3 is a lot more than a simple upgrade to the Garmin fenix 2 because it adds a lot of features that open the GPS sports watch series up to a whole new category of consumer. For the first time, a Garmin fenix collection timepiece is also a "smartwatch," with the major phone connectivity features people seem to expect. Garmin doesn't expect Garmin fenix 3 owners to rely on the watch as a second phone screen, but has attempted to design it as a true daily wear watch.

What is different about the Garmin fenix 3 over the Garmin epix aside from design is the lack of mapping features, but the addition of a larger "Chroma" color display that Garmin claims is good enough to be read in direct sunlight. It doesn't have a touch screen, but that is probably not a deal breaker. In a lot of ways, the Garmin fenix 3 is like the Garmin epix with a lot of activity features, GPS, an altimeter, barometer, and compass, smartwatch connectivity, as well as the ability to download apps the Garmin Connect IQ app store. What does John Biggs like about the Garmin fenix 3? As someone I know is interested in fitness wearables and sports watches, John is mostly interested in the fact that Garmin may have finally designed a watch you "can wear with a suit."

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases

That means you have a fully featured top-of-the-line Garmin GPS fitness watch with an attractive case, available with a steel bracelet, as well as a model with an available sapphire crystal in the Garmin fenix 3 Sapphire. Pre-loaded and available widgets and watch faces make the Garmin fenix 3 look a lot more elegant, and the durable design offers 100 meters of water resistance. Battery life for the Garmin fenix 3 (similar to the Garmin epix) can last from just 16 hours with GPS on to about 3 months if used just as a watch. Figure a few days of battery life to a week with most people's use (Garmin says, "20 hours of active usage").

Is A Garmin Going To Be Your Next Smartwatch? CES 2015 Watch Lineup Looks Strong Watch Releases

Will the Garmin fenix 3 be the "killer smartwatch of 2015?" I don't think so. But it might be the Casio ProTrek killer of 2015 until Casio responds with their own stuff. It is true, however, that the Garmin fenix 3 does cost about 40% more than the typical ProTrek. With that said, serious outdoors-types or those seeking the ultimate training tools are not known for penny pinching their gear. Casio does, however, have a long and better track record of making comfortable watches you want to wear all the time. Having said that, if successful, the Garmin fenix 3 might make features such as GPS connectivity, apps, and smartwatch notification features part of what consumers expect in sports smartwatches moving forward. Price for the Garmin fenix 3 will be $499 - $549.

What do you think?
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  • joshgraves

    The Garmin fenix 3 is a smartwatch I would wear.  I love the fact that there will be a sapphire crystal option.  That alone seals the deal.  Definitely a G-Shock alternative.

  • antjay

    I think the expix would make a great travel watch especially if teamed with a compact solar charger . I have been left in the lurch on several occasions when relying on my phone’s GPS functionality in countries with poor or patchy mobile services .
    This is the first smart watch that I would seriously consider purchasing . .

  • Care to elaborate? I would consider G-shocks and smartwatches to be filling different niches. Honestly, if anyone were to produce a proper smartwatch Casio would be one of the first names that come to mind, but G-shocks don’t (yet, anyway) compete in this space. They have the bluetooth models, but I would hardly classify those as smart watches.

  • DangerussArt

    These are moving in the “right” direction for me. I feel the whole genre needs a few more years in the oven though. If, for some reason, I HAD to buy a smartwatch today, this would be on the top of the list.

  • shinytoys

    They just keep getting better, making more sense. The integration of fitness tech with GPs and smart phones has me following closely. Imagine what we’ll be able to do with one of these in a year! Where are you Casio?

  • KnightInATL

    aBlogtoWatch Garmin Always told myself I’d never put a #smartwatch on my wrist. But if I ever do, it will be this one.

  • SantiagoT

    SuperStrapper Well you do get notifications from your mobile phone on several G-Shock models, but no they are not smart watches. And they are going to suffer severely precisely because of that.

  • The dead don’t suffer. I have a fairly expansive G shock collection, and a bluetooth model is not anywhere near my radar, and I don’t know of anyone that owns one. Much like the current state of smartwatches, they solved a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • SantiagoT

    SuperStrapper Oh I agree that the problem doesn’t exist. Which doesn’t mean people won’t buy something they don’t really need, or pay higher prices for something that they already had.

  • bichondaddy

    Garmin also makes a really nice watch for the avid golfer…..The Garmin Approach S1 Golf GPS Navigator.  Although I don’t play much anymore…due to my medical problems….I got one when they first came out just to have one.  I do like the looks of these “Smart watches” just because they are pretty cool looking!  Not saying they would be linked up with a Smart Phone…since I chose not to have one…but as a watch…they are pretty nice looking!

  • Time2Go

    DangerussArt Totally agree. I’m happy to let the smart watch space mature for a year or two until somebody really comes up with the “killer app” that convinces me I need one. Until then, I’m fine letting the early adopters (and iSheep) spend their energy and dollars weeding-out all the noise and fluff in this space.

  • Robin Henry

    I’ve been contemplating buying a Seiko GPS Astron wrist watch. I had a look at one in my local AD, but they are $2700 so I have to make sure it’s really what I want before I rush out and spend. 

    Garmin seems like an alternative, so I’ll have to look at a couple before I buy. The idea of a Garmin golf watch is good, but unfortunately, it won’t help me improve my swing.

  • The fenix3 is very, very cool, but the deal-breaker for me is the battery life. Until solar cell and/or battery technology improve that’s going to be a pretty limiting feature for any smartwatch.

  • Robin Henry

    Camguy You can whack it onto the charger every night when you go to bed. Not really a problem, although I agree, solar would be better. No doubt it will eventually evolve to that.

  • I occasionally “treat” myself to the mundane run or hardcore hike (not weekend strolling) up into the mountains and the only gear I truly feel glad to bring along is the Camelback hydration pack with a candy bar stuffed inside.
    I’m so glad guys with marketing degrees and salesmen have created a need for such items as these. My God, what would we have done without them??

  • spiceballs

    Robin Henry Camguy  maybe, but perhaps not when you are out in the wilds?

  • spiceballs

    I don’t see that all these watch designers/manufacturers are chasing Apple.  In many ways I see Apple chasing them!  I think that what Garmin are offering is creditable but there is still that battery life issue as mentioned by Camguy. Nevertheless some of their designs are another step forward. in my eyes. Look out for the Casio riposte?

  • Robin Henry

    shinytoys CASIO is out there with some pretty cool stuff too. However, their latest, loveliest GP watch is around $3,000 which is a bit much for many of us.

  • joshgraves

    SuperStrapper I suppose what I mean as an alternative to a G-Shock, is that this piece seems rugged, covers many of the smartwatch features, and actually looks cool.  I love my basic G-Shock and it’s all the outdoor/sport watch that I need, but it’s far from a technological masterpiece.  I’m setting my personal bar for tech that will find its way to my wrist pretty high.  The Fenix seems to hit all the right marks.  The Fenix also seems to offer a lot more bang for the buck compared to the $3k MR-G Casio and the high end digital Seikos..

  • joshgraves I understand your point, but I disagree on a few items, and all in I think you are not doing a fair apples-to-apples comparison. 

    First off, I don’t see how in any way this is as rugged as a G-shock. Also, considering that many Gshocks have accurate ABC readings (not to mention the Pathfinder series, that use ABC + tons of other functionality) I would consider them more technologically advanced than these ‘smart’ watches that just tell me that the phone in my pocket got an new email or text message. 

    Also, the $3k+ MR-G series are anomalies – most G shocks are under $200, showing much more bang-for-buck than this thing.

  • VM1960

    I think these smart watches are the sneakers of the watch world. Most everyone has them, but they didn’t put the shoe industry out of business.

  • SantiagoT

    Breaking news! You can already buy the Apple Phone: http://www.aiwatch.hk/

    Well, almost… ô_Ô!

  • joshgraves

    SuperStrapper joshgraves I agree that the battery life is a bit of deal breaker, but it appears better than most existing smartwatches.  I can’t wait to see a ABTW hands on review.  That should give us a better idea of the overall quality and usability of the Fenix.

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