Why I returned my Garmin Fenix 2 for a 310xt

Today, I finally returned my Garmin Fenix 2 to REI. The good folks there take gear back for a full year, no questions asked, and frankly, given the atrocious behavior of the Fenix 2, I wouldn’t buy any new Garmin device anywhere else. As I already noted, the Fenix 2 was a clunky, utterly inaccurate GPS device, so bad that it was useless as a marathon companion. Not only were instantaneous pace readings off by 40 seconds or more, the distance logged by the unit was so bad that the pace for half-mile splits (my usual way of pacing a marathon, since the half mile distance smooths out the pace reading) were also unusable. Having used a Garmin ForeRunner 305 for years, I grew accustomed to seeing half-mile splits that were, in open conditions, off by 3-4 seconds per mile at the most. With the Fenix 2, 8-9 seconds off was the norm.

Worse yet, the OS was terrible. The device took minutes to load an event saved not a moment before, and to view spit information, several minutes more. The same behavior in a Garmin ForeRunner 305 (or 310xt) can be reviewed in 3-4 seconds. In the Fenix, instead of scrolling through a list of splits and seeing the information below, you’re forced to scroll through a long text dump file which is slow and which pauses frequently to load. No exaggeration, finding out what your last half-mile split was in a just-complete marathon would take 10 minutes or more, except that I was never actually able to get the device to scroll all the way to lap 52. It would freeze and hang up before then. Again, this takes less than 10 seconds on a ForeRunner 305.

See that mess in this video.

Putting up with this hassle was already grating on me, but things got worse. Somehow, the buttons on the Fenix 2 often fail to register a press even though you can feel (and hear) the click. See that in this video.

I put up with this for several weeks, since my old ForeRunner 305 had some buttons that were broken after years of use. Eventually, I cracked, however. The Fenix 2 started recording corrupted activity files. It happened about 25% of the time, eventually, despite my habit of erasing the user history at least once a week.

The final straw was the reboot bug. For some reason, one day the Fenix 2 just decided it would no longer record activities. Whenever I got an activity queued up and hit start, it would just reboot itself. See the video below for this behavior, made even more fun when the Fenix 2 decided to just keep rebooting itself in an unbreakable loop until the battery died.

I ended up replacing the $480 Fenix 2 with a $150 ForeRunner 310 xt.

The 310 is a much better unit. Here’s why:

  • The LCD screen is larger, higher resolution, and, with black on white, much easier to read. It’s also got a brighter backlight.
  • The OS is much faster and smoother than the Fenix 2.
  • The accuracy is much better than the Fenix 2. It’s still not as good as the ForeRunner 305 (and 205), but that unit’s accuracy was apparently the best Garmin ever produced. See tested accuracy and precision here.
  • The battery life is much better than the Fenix 2, topping out about 20 hours in normal use. The Fenix 2 will get 14 in normal use. It might go 50 in ultra-track mode, but the GPS trace will be even worse than usual, and you’ll have no heart rate or footpod data, as it shuts all those units off.
  • The 310xt is much more comfortable on my wrist, and much easier to adjust on the fly. This may not feel the same to others, but to me, it’s a great change.

There are, of course, some givebacks with the 310xt. But they don’t matter much to me. I doubt they will to you, either.

  • No barometric altimeter. Who cares? The Fenix 2’s altimeter is invariably a long way off because it can’t tell the difference between a change in air pressure due to weather and a change due to your relative altitude. The only way it can get a bead on your precise altitude during an activity is if you calibrate the altitude before-hand by entering it yourself, and thereafter, again, it won’t know if the difference is weather or elevation. You can set the Fenix 2 to recalibrate itself during the event by determining an elevation via GPS to use as a starting point, but then you’re getting a likely inaccurate elevation reading due to GPS imprecision. To my mind, the barometric altimeter is useless. A triangulated guess by GPS is good enough. And the 310xt can do that better than the Fenix 2.
  • No phone alerts on the 310xt. Again, who cares? Probably no one, because the Fenix 2 cannot simultaneously use Bluetooth and ANT, so if you’re using a heart rate strap, your Fenix 2 isn’t delivering phone alterts anyway.
  • No recovery assistant or V02 max estimate on the 310xt. Another who cares moment. The recovery guidance on the Fenix 2 is a vague guess, and the V02 max estimate is the same. After dozens of runs with the Fenix 2 and heart rate monitor, it pegged me at an overly-high V02 max and said I could run a 2:34 marathon. My best marathon is 2:55:02. I think I could run a 2:52 if I really busted my ass, but there’s no way I’m ever getting into the 2:30s. Even the 2:40s are probably a fantasy.
  • No extended “running dynamics” on the 310xt, like vertical oscillation or ground contact time. Since these are meaningless numbers, this is another thing that doesn’t matter. Cadence, I can get from the 310xt with the attached footpod.

You get the gist. For $320 more, you get an inferior Fenix 2 with bells and whistles that don’t matter. Moreover, you get a bad attitude from Garmin customer service, which told me over and over again in response to my queries and criticism, that the Fenix 2 isn’t really meant to be a multisport watch (despite what it says right there on the box) and that my expectations for accuracy and OS fluidity were too high. Nevermind that those expectations were set by an 8 year-old Garmin device.

The Fenix 3 looks much better, with a hugely improved screen and an OS copied from the 920xt, which follows the better design of the 310xt ancestry. Unfortunately, battery life isn’t any better, meaning that if you’ve got a 100 miler in your future, you need to be a sub-15-hour monster to have a good chance of finishing with the Fenix 3 recording all your data. The Epix reportedly has 24 hour battery life, and looks great as well, but the price point is really high, $600+ by the time you get a HR strap. After the horrible experience with the Fenix 2 and Garmin’s I-don’t-give-a-shit customer service regarding same, I am highly unlikely to trust them enough to spend that kind of dough.

It’s a shame. I was a Garmin fan for years and enthusiastically recommended their GPS watches to all my friends. Now, I don’t trust them to do the right thing.


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