Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar: A maximalist watch for hardcore, data-loving athletes and explorers
Built-in solar charging • Top-of-the-line activity tracking and mapping • Battery saving mode
Heavy device • Heart rate monitor isn’t reliable • Significant investment
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar caters to extreme, niche, and data-driven athletes and adventurers.
Before I tried out the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, all I knew is that it’s one of Garmin’s more maximalist models that’s “tested to U.S. military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance” and priced at $799.99.
Admittedly that description sounded a little excessive for my purposes as most of my activity comes in the form of running. But I was curious about how user-friendly and useful in general its many features would be.
And it delivers to the military standards — but it’s a great fitness wearable for athletes or adventurers who obsess over data, tracking, mapping, and more.
The setup process for the Fenix 6 was very similar to that of the Forerunner 945 (and presumably, most other Garmin watches). Having gone through the process recently and already familiarized myself with the Garmin Connect and Garmin Connect IQ apps, the Fenix 6 went even quicker. It was mostly a matter of pairing the partially charged watch with my app and getting the data fields the way I wanted them. The Fenix 6 definitely benefited from being second to test, but it goes to show that anyone with relatively recent Garmin experience will have no problem getting these watches up and running in a matter of minutes.
A battery with built-in solar charging means fewer charge days
A defining feature of the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is the solar component: built-in solar charging, which has the potential to add life to an already long-lasting battery. Depending on how long you’re outside and how sunny it is, you can add up to 2 days of battery life in smartwatch mode (up to 16 days) and 4 hours in GPS mode (up to 40 hours). I have to admit that it was fun to keep an eye on the solar intensity whenever I was outside, and I got away with charging the watch just once in two weeks.
Depending on how long you’re outside and how sunny it is, you can add up to 2 days of battery life in smartwatch mode.
Those battery bumps are nice, but where the solar power really kicks in is the battery saver mode. Without solar, using the battery saver will extend the smartwatch life up to 48 days, and with solar, that number skyrockets to 80 days (nearly 3 months!). I didn’t use the watch long enough to verify either the 48- or 80-day claim, but based on my trial period, I don’t doubt it. Just be sure that if you’re going for the solar version of the Fenix 6, you live and train somewhere sunny enough to make it worth it. Also, know that some features — like using the pulse oximeter and streaming music — will still drain your battery quickly if you aren’t careful.
Fenix 6 is a hefty watch — and can weigh you down at first
In terms of aesthetics, the Fenix 6 definitely leans toward the rugged end of the spectrum. It’s not an attempt at a sleek fashion-meets-function watch, which I appreciate, because it looks exactly as I think a “premium multisport GPS watch” should look: durable, substantial, and full of adventure tools. It also has a nice-sized color display, both a little larger and a little higher resolution than the Forerunner 945 (but honestly a little hard to notice unless you’re comparing them side-by-side).
Size-wise, though, there’s no sugarcoating it: the Fenix 6 is a whopper of a watch. If I thought the Forerunner 945 wasn’t small wrist-friendly, this watch takes that statement to a new level. Although both of them occupy the same amount of space on a wrist, the Fenix 6 is noticeably thicker (15.1 mm versus 13.7 mm) and significantly heavier (85 g for the steel version of the Fenix 6 versus 50 g for the Forerunner 945).
Wearing it, I actually felt a little lopsided while running—especially for the first mile of any run, and whenever I ran uphill. I had my husband take it on a spin for comparison, and even though he’s a much larger human than I am, he agrees: the weight is a little distracting until you adjust to it. Granted, I probably would have gotten used to it over time, but had I tried the Fenix 6 on in a store, the heft would have been a non-starter.
The heart rate monitor is unreliable
Just like the Forerunner 945, the heart rate monitor inside the Fenix 6 is too unreliable to be useful. Wrist-based heart rate trackers are suspect to begin with, and they become even more so when the watch doesn’t make a great seal with the user’s skin (i.e., a big watch on a small hand). Even when I cinched the Fenix 6 strap so tight that it pinched me, my heart rate readings were still way off, so I eventually stopped even checking them. For what it’s worth, my larger-wristed husband thought his readings seemed more accurate.
If you care about having accurate heart rate data, simply purchase a chest strap heart rate monitor, sync it to your watch and app, and know that what you’re seeing is much closer to reality than anything you’ll get from a wrist strap.
Fenix 6 excels at activity tracking outdoors, but not inside
Knowing that Garmin specializes in GPS technology, it’s no surprise that that is where the Fenix 6 really shines. With personal stake in the running tracker, that’s where I spent most of my time, and I was consistently impressed with both the experience and accuracy. I trusted the data (current pace, average pace, elevation change, and such) as much or more than any GPS watch I’ve used before. It’s also worth mentioning that the mapping capacity of the Fenix 6 is quite advanced, detailed enough to turn even questionable navigators such as myself into confident pathfinders.
Beyond running, the Fenix 6 tracks dozens of other activities that range from the ordinary (various cycling, swimming, running, and cross-training modes, plus hiking, strength training, and several snow sport options) to the less common (indoor climbing, kayaking, and indoor track running) to the obscure (ultra-running, surfing, jumpmaster, tactical, and boating, to name some that aren’t offered by the Forerunner 945). Admittedly, the two activities I had to look up are unlikely to be ones I’ll ever engage in; jumpmaster is for experienced skydivers, and tactical tracks the user’s location and elevation changes and displays current coordinates.
Besides the treadmill running tracker, which was both inaccurate and pretty pointless in my opinion, all of the activity modes I tried did a fine-to-great job. However, I got much more out of those that I did outside while covering ground (like walking and running) than those done inside while staying in place (like using an elliptical or stationary bike). The purpose of tracking those, I suppose, is to offer the watch a complete picture of your exercise so you can keep track, and so it can offer you (questionable, at best) estimates of your fitness level and recovery needs.
So many bells and whistles
Given the significant overlap of features with the Forerunner 945 — these watches have way more similarities than differences — here’s a quick rundown of some that are unique to the Fenix 6 Pro Solar:
The Fenix 6 allows you to transfer music from your personal library to your watch, or to stream music and download playlists from Spotify or Deezer, provided that you’re a premium subscriber. One perk of the Fenix 6 is its extra music storage capacity: up to 2,000 songs, versus 1,000 with the Forerunner 945.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar was clearly intended for hardcore athletes and adventurers.
In addition to the battery saver mode, Fenix 6 users have the option of going into Expedition mode to extend their battery life on multi-day outings. You can still record your activity in this mode, but your watch goes into low power mode, turns off all sensors and accessories, and collects GPS track points just once every hour (although you can add more points as you go if you wish.)
With the on-screen workout animation feature, the Fenix 6 allows you to do workout classes wherever you are. The watch comes loaded with several yoga, pilates, cardio, and strength workouts, and the Garmin Connect App has more you can download, too. Simply choose your workout in whichever activity category it falls under, press “start,” and follow along as an animated instructor guides you through your class of choice.
While it’s a nice idea, in theory, the yoga and ab workouts I tried were too stop-and-start to be very effective. I was constantly looking at my watch to see what I was supposed to be doing, and it seemed that as soon as I caught on to one exercise, a string of beeps had started that indicated it was almost time to move on. I suppose if you repeat the same class several times, you can probably get into a better flow. But personally, I’d probably stick to my own routines or follow along with a live or YouTube instructor.
If you regularly find yourself diving into deep waters, the Fenix 6 may be a good choice for you. Its water rating of 10 ATM means it can withstand pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters (twice as deep as the Forerunner 945).
Ski resort maps
Frequent skiers are in for a treat, with the 2,000 ski resort maps from around the world that come loaded onto the Fenix 6. The maps show run names and are color-coded by difficulty so skiers never have to wonder where they are or what their next move should be.
MTB grit and flow
Mountain bike enthusiasts can get more detailed with their data while in MTB mode, which includes grit (overall difficulty rating of a mountain bike ride) and flow (how well a rider maintains speed during a particular ride). And yes, I absolutely had to look up both definitions.
Worth the high price tag?
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar was clearly intended for hardcore athletes and adventurers. In addition to the standard smartwatch features of today that include weather, altitude, heart rate, wallet, notifications, and music, it goes beyond in a few distinct areas.
This model excels in the mapping and activity tracking departments (as Garmin does), offers more than one way to extend battery on long-haul treks (battery saver mode and expedition tracking), and offers features (like MTB Grit and Flow and Jumpmaster) that apply to just a tiny subset of thrill-seekers. If you’re in the military or are an extreme athlete, and data matters to you, you’re probably a good candidate for the Fenix 6 Pro Solar.
That said, most people — myself included — will consider this watch overkill. Its weight alone is a personal deal-breaker, and most of the features that make it unique among smartwatches don’t apply to me since I don’t surf, skydive, deep-dive, mountain bike, or regularly embark on days-long excursions. The $800 price tag can’t be ignored either, especially for those of us who wouldn’t capitalize on all the watch has to offer.
In my mind, the perfect Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar user is a large-wristed individual who loves off-road adventures, participates in a wide array of sports and activities (some of them rather obscure), regularly goes hiking or exploring for days at a time, and has never met a metric he or she didn’t like.