The Garmin Epix (Generation 2) is one of the latest high-end smartwatches from Garmin. As someone who has reviewed a number of Garmin smartwatches, I was immediately delighted by what Garmin did with the Epix and how the product has evolved. I also reviewed this Garmin “Premium Active Smartwatch” not long after spending a lot of time with the Apple Watch while working on an aBlogtoWatch feature about its activity tracking features and competition mode. That allowed me to contrast how two heavyweight contenders in the premium activity tracking smartwatch market compare. In short, neither is universally a better product because they really try to position themselves at two different ends of the market — meaning that the right activity smartwatch choice currently has a lot to do with who is wearing it and what they want from their fitness and exercise tracking experience.
A great way to differentiate the Apple Watch and products like the Garmin Epix Gen 2 is by saying that Apple produces an easier-to-understand and well-rounded product for mainstream users, while Garmin doubles down on deeper features, levels of customization, and a more robust tracking and software experience for a range of professional to prosumer user needs. Garmin produces high-end smartwatches for serious users (such as athletes) who want to personalize their experience, have much functionality available to them, and have the patience for a steeper learning curve and penetration into the software’s complex features.
First, let’s talk about the Epix Gen 2 hardware and design. Garmin, as a company, is set up by product category (aviation, running, boating, etc.), and many categories could use a smartwatch for their users. This helps explain why there are so many Garmin smartwatches on the market and why some of them have overlapping functionality. Garmin also likes to experiment at times with different hardware technologies, such as screens and even operating systems. What I try to do is focus my editorial attention on Garmin watches that are good for a variety of users and that combine hardcore activity tracking functionality with daily-wear practicality. The Epix Gen 2 is just such a product, and, while not the most expensive smartwatch available from Garmin at this time, certainly represents a luxury smartwatch product with its roughly $1,000 USD pricing.
The Epix Gen 2 watch itself in this reference 010-02582-20 “Sapphire – White Titanium” variant has a 47mm-wide case produced from mostly titanium with white-colored polymer-reinforced sections. Over the screen is a sapphire crystal, but Garmin also sells a slightly less expensive version of the Epix Gen 2 with a Gorilla Glass DX crystal. For my purposes, I prefer the sapphire crystal. The case isn’t too thick (for a smartwatch) at 14.5mm, and it has a 416×416 pixel screen that is 1.3 inches in diameter. Really important to note about this watch is the use of an AMOLED screen as opposed to a transreflective MIP screen, which is used in other similar products, such as the Garmin Fenix collection.
The screen is actually one of the major product differentiators here, and it makes a big difference. There are pluses and minuses to both screens, but I personally prefer the AMOLED screen overall. Why? Well, even though it uses more power and doesn’t have the same legibility in direct sunlight (though, with the bright backlight, you can see just fine in bright light) the screen has more resolution (better detail), more colors, and is also a touchscreen. While this isn’t the first Garmin smartwatch with a touchscreen, it is the the most premium model I’ve tested that has one, and I really appreciate being able to use both the five pushers on the case and the touchscreen to operate and adjust the Epix Gen 2.
The Epix Gen 2 case is water resistant to 100 meters and has 32 gigs of internal storage for this sapphire crystal model. It actually weighs a bit less than the Corning Gorilla Glass model being just 70 grams (with the strap) and is very comfortable to wear. Of course, the Apple Watch is still a smaller profile product, which is important to consider if small size is important to you. Style-wise, I really like how Garmin has continued to refine the masculine, aggressive look of its products, which I think began with the original Fenix models. The case is much more symmetrical now, and the once-aggressive lines on the case have been smoothed and minimized to become very attractive elements of the overall products’ visual personality. This is very much epitomized in the design of the brushed titanium bezel around the screen.
Battery life is an important consideration for many consumers, and Garmin really leads the pack here. Of course, it depends how you use your smartwatch, but I noticed that the Epix Gen 2 has probably the best battery life of any full-featured modern smartwatch with a backlit screen that I’ve reviewed. While most smartwatches in this category have less than 24 hours of typical battery life, outside of the box the Garmin Epix Gen 2 has about five days of battery life. That can even be extended by adjusting various features and using various power savings modes.
A good example of how Garmin intelligently saves on battery life is to recommend users to set an “off hours” mode for the Epix Gen 2. Essentially this is when the user defines their regular sleep hours, and the watch goes into a low-power state to save battery life. It would not be possible to fully discuss everything Garmin does or allows to extend battery life, but as with most features in these products, there is a lot to discover if you dig deep. One area that I was not super happy with was the charging system, though it is hardly a deal breaker. I tend to be a fan of charging docks or clicks which firmly and attractively connect smartwatches to power. The Epix Gen 2 uses a small proprietary charging connected which attaches to a port in the back of the watch. Garmin did a lot to ensure that this cable doesn’t easily become detached but it also looks like it could potentially break or cause the watch damage if jerked the wrong way when attached to the Epix Gen 2. The USB-based charging cable is also a bit on the short side, and for this type of money, I would like have liked for Garmin to also include an AC adapter.
When it comes to sensors, I don’t need to list everything that Garmin makes available in the Epix Gen 2, as the list is long and not necessarily novel for this product. I will, however, remind people that this watch contains Garmin’s class leading GPS system, Bluetooth and WiFi for Internet and phone connectivity features, and a heart rate monitor as part of the activity tracking features. Garmin also sells a number of modules and companion devices that you can pair with the Epix Gen 2 that range from boating navigation equipment to cycling cadence monitors.
When setting up the Garmin Epix Gen 2, I specifically didn’t want to use the smartwatch as a phone notification device, meaning that I didn’t want the watch to tell me about missed calls, text messages, or emails. Garmin has made the process of setting up your watch simpler than in the past, and I appreciate that at the outset, I could help define how I wanted to use the watch. I was more interested in the functionality offered by the watch itself and how well it was able to track fitness and exercise goals.
Garmin offers a lot — perhaps too much — in its overall operating system environment, while at the same time not making most of its functionality easily accessible to novice users. I will spend a bit of time talking about various examples, but overall I want to make it clear that anyone who purchases one of these products has little choice but to spend time with the manual, learning about how it works and what it does. Apple has a much more refined “out of the box” exercise tracking experience, whereas Garmin requires you to fiddle with settings and preferences to properly tailor the Epix Gen 2 to your particular needs. That isn’t a good or bad thing, but it does mean that low or moderately sophisticated consumers might be frustrated when wanting something that works well outside of the box, only to learn they need to fiddle a lot to customize the operating system to their needs.
Let me offer a good example of what I am talking about. When you start a workout on the Garmin Epix Gen 2, you are presented with a few suggested data screens for what you might like to view during your work out. The default screens for activities such as spinning (indoor cycling) or hiking offer some strange displays that I personally don’t use. The default screens don’t even tell you the current time. What Garmin allows you to do is customize all of these screens with a very (very) deep level of customization that eventually allows you to experience the screens and functionality you personally want when tracking a work out.
The problems is that doing all this is very time-consuming, as well as confusing, because many of the options use terms and tools I (who am not a professional athlete) know nothing about. Making things more challenging is that the fact that as far as I know, none of this screen or display customization is available via the accompanying Garmin Connect smartphone app. I really like how the Apple Watch and most Google Wear OS smartwatches allow you to customize the “watch faces” via the smartphone app. This doesn’t seem to be available with Garmin. I spent about 25 minutes setting up the watch to display what I wanted while tracking a spinning session and then gave up when doing the same for tracking hikes because I ran out of time. That task would have been at least another 30 minutes. That Garmin offers all this amazing customization and a depth of features to make nerds like me happy is incredible. I just wish there were a concierge service or remote way of adjusting all of this. As it is, I feel that many novice users will be turned off by the level of education and involvement necessary to get the full benefit of what Garmin’s team has developed here.
Alternatively, if you are an active performance professional or a training athlete you are going to love all the customization and additional features that are not available in any form from the stock Apple Watch experience, or its competition. Garmin truly has a serious professional tool and not a toy in its aim when developing this and other smartwatch products. The product page on the Garmin website for the Epix Gen 2 has a very comprehensive list of all the main features available in the operating system, and the selection of feature is intense. Everyone from skiers to surfers have software available for them. Garmin also readily connect to third-party services such as Strava and others that help enhance and expand your experience of training and competing with others. Just don’t expect much of this to be easy to understand right outside the box, as they require additional learning and skills to make the most of (as is the case with most professional tools).
One of the things I want Garmin to do a bit better is offer a more immediate visual activity tracking feature akin to Apple’s “closing the rings.” While the Epix Gen 2 does track daily activity goals such as steps and heart rate ranges, there aren’t that many ways to view your progress on default watch screens. To do this, I believe you need to go in and play with the data display settings a lot. It is true that dedicated athletes are more interested in other data, but this is a very important feature for the casual wearer. Apple does this very well, and I think it would be wise for Garmin to prioritize adding features or screens that allow users to more readily visualize the progress they have made when it comes to daily activity goals.
Garmin has also come a long way with aesthetics when it comes to their operating systems and screens. Now with an AMOLED screen and its better resolution and colors, the Garmin design team has a lot more visual opportunities available to them. I complained in the past that Garmin’s watch faces lacked sexiness, and while there is still a way to go, the improvements here are marked. What I noticed in particular (again, only if you dig deep into the system) is a lot of watch face and data screen visual options including colors, layouts, available data, etc. The process of adjusting and personalizing the screens isn’t as slick as what Apple offers, but Garmin does actually offer more choices and variety for those who take the time to play with all the settings. The sheer level of customization possible is a bit staggering, and I feel that there are going to be specialists out there in the future who will help people optimize the “data visualization options” on their smartwatches.
The Epix Gen 2 product would not be a Garmin without deep mapping features in addition to the built-in GPS functionality. Whether you are tracking your distance and course while exercising, or wanting to get somewhere, the built-in mapping tools offer plenty of features while also not decimating battery life. Some of these tools require additional software and services, but overall Garmin remains the king of the GPS smartwatch in terms of both hardware and software.
So who is the Garmin Epix Gen 2 smartwatch best for? In this titanium and sapphire crystal form, the product is among the more expensive smartwatches available, but it certainly isn’t overpriced. Most of the current market is for mainstream consumers who want under $500 smartwatches they give them activity tracking basics and phone notifications. Garmin has those products but higher-end models such as the Epix Gen 2 are about more features, more precision, more longevity, and more options. The volume of consumers who can make use out of all that is limited, but I do encourage owners to spend time learning about what their Epix Gen 2 watches can do. Even though I like the personality and styling of the even higher-end Garmin MARQ watches collection, I think that the Epix Gen 2 is overall my favorite Garmin smartwatch that I’ve reviewed so far. Much of this is due to the screen, updated operating system with touchscreen interface, and simple wearing comfort. This version comes with a white-color silicone strap that is more than suitable for exercising scenarios. Garmin uses handy quick-release hardware for the strap ends which means they certainly intend for people to add variety to how people style these watches. I’m personally excited to keep wearing it and learning more about what the powerful software can do. Price for the Garmin Epix Gen 2 smartwatch as seen here with titanium and sapphire is $999 USD. Learn more at the Garmin website here.