Garmin Epix – Hands-On Review
Just as the smoke clears from the newly released Fenix 3, along comes the Garmin Epix !
So what makes the Epix so special you may ask ? Well it’s Garmin’s first attempt at providing full mapping and routable guidance in a watch style form factor. Garmin have been the masters of handheld mapping devices for a number of years, and also build some very nice gps sport watches in the Forerunner and Fenix models. However the Epix raises the bar by merging the 2 platforms by providing a whopping 8GB of storage space for preloaded mapping and satellite imaging, all visible on a high res (35.6 mm) 64 colour Transflective LCD display in a ruggedised outdoor watch form factor.
So why not just use my smart phone ? Well a smart phone won’t help you if you are out in the middle of nowhere without data coverage, secondly your phone mapping will not have the level of detail as full scale topographical maps, thirdly your phone’s battery will not last anywhere as long as the Epix, and lastly keep your phone turned off incase you do need it for an emergency call !
At first glance the unit looks big, but to be honest it is very comfortable to wear with the wide soft silicon strap, and at 84 grams is on a par with the fenix 3. The display is easy to read, especially brilliant in full sunlight, the best display out there we have seen at Highly Tuned Athletes. The dilemma with a watch capable of detailed mapping is that you cannot make it too small, otherwise it it is unusable, Garmin have done a nice job size wise. Apart from the easy to use buttons, Garmin also have equipped the Epix with a touch screen display. Personally, I find the touch screen fiddly to use and not as precise or efficient as the button operation, with the Epix all features can be operated by buttons alone.
Garmin have yet again released another style of charging clip in the search for perfection !
The clip attaches firmly onto the side of the Epix. The unit is also capable of being powered externally from say a battery pack, whilst giving full access to all menus, maps, or data whilst recording and charging. The USB connection is also used for connection to Garmin Basecamp, and for transferring large amounts of data such as satellite imaging, mapping and firmware updates. Day to day activities can easily be transferred to Garmin Connect via a Bluetooth (BLE) equipped smartphone. Garmin state battery life running on GPS as 24hrs of recording. On test with alerts, bluetooth, and backlight off, I have been close to this figure.
There is a 50 hr Ultratrack mode with a lower sample rate if you need it, and in watch mode Garmin state 16 weeks as a watch, this is also assuming Bluetooth is disabled.
The Epix really is fully loaded. All the features of the Fenix3 and the Forerunner 920 are included as standard. Everything from swim metrics (50m water resistance), bike integration, multisport, intervals, workouts, vibration alerts, HRM Run compatibility, Ant+ sensor integration, daily activity tracking, and Connect IQ integration, plus lots more. I have been using the Epix since first release and fully tested the forerunner sport modes without issue, this review won’t go into the standard sporting functionality. The GPS tracks reliably, and also has Glonass and 1 second sampling options for added accuracy.
Connect IQ allows a user to extend the feature set of any compatible Garmin device. Watch faces, Apps, Widgets, and enhanced Data fields can all be downloaded for free, from the Connect IQ store.
An example of enhanced data fields is giving ability to the Epix to display heart rate, pace/speed, elevation, in a graphical format on the watch during an activity.
Full Bluetooth phone integration is supported on the Epix, via both iPhone and Android devices. Notifications, data syncing, information such as weather and calendar schedules, and live tracking of user data are standard features and easy to configure.
By default the Epix will provide a temperature reading from the barometric sensor built into the watch. That means if you are wearing the Epix, the temperature recorded will be effected by body temperature. Left off the wrist the Epix does provide a fairly accurate recording. In addition, the Epix will pair with an external Garmin Tempe temperature sensor, which will provide the Epix with current sensor temperature and the Minimum and Maximum for the previous 24hr period. Great for looking at the temperature outside from the warmth of bed before heading out on the trails !
The Epix features a Barometric Altimeter, which can be calibrated either manually, a once off via GPS at the start of an activity, or continuously updated from GPS derived elevation at a set interval. I personally prefer to use the manual method based on a known reference point, but the automatic calibration at least works if you have no idea of current elevation.
By default the Epix comes with world wide base mapping, and is the cheapest of the build options.
Fine if you are in a foreign city and need the basics, map screens will show major towns, land/water bodies and major roads, but that’s about it, certainly no trails to be found here.
The Epix really comes alive when full mapping is uploaded to the unit. This can be performed via Garmin’s outdoor device application Basecamp (available freely for both Mac and PC platforms).
In Australia, the Epix can be purchased with full Australia & New Zealand Topographic maps, with contour intervals down to 10 metre intervals and routable street navigation.
World wide high resolution Garmin mapping can also purchased on-line via Basecamp. There will also be a topo lite version released soon with less detail and a greater contour interval.
Third party mapping can be uploaded to the Epix, along with the ability to upload customised electronic or paper maps with Garmin Custom Maps.
In addition the Epix also comes with a free 12 month subscription to Garmin’s Birdseye Satellite imaging. Imaging can be downloaded via Basecamp, for a selected area you will be exploring.
Map layers uploaded can be turned on or off or combined. The more detail though, the more the maps will lag during panning or zooming, so beware !
Navigating with the Epix can be achieved via a number of methods. Firstly the 3D Electronic Compass is pretty handy, it is very responsive and easy to use.
The map screen is easy to get to, but do make sure GPS is enabled before using it for navigation. A user can navigate to any point marked on the map, by line of sight or if routable maps have been uploaded, via a route based either on shortest time or distance. There are numerous routing options definable under each sport.
A proposed course or route can also be pre-planned and mapped with the Garmin Basecamp application on your computer, then uploaded to the Epix as a course and followed being visible on the map screen and a directional prompt indicator. Any previous activity in the device history can be navigated, or what I personally like, is to enable the activity/s to be visible on the map screen at all times in the colour of your choosing. What this means is that you can see basically a trail of where you have been in a certain area in the past, even if you are currently not following a course.
There is also the option to enter direct co-ordinates from numerous formats from the navigation screen, along with Sight’N Go (which locks onto a feature pointed at on the horizon), saved waypoints or the handy Tracback feature that provides navigation to retrace your steps.
If you are into ad-hock bush bashing or serious navigation, then the new Garmin Epix is for you. It is extremely handy having full mapping available on your wrist at anytime. By all means the Epix is not cheap, but there is nothing else out there in the market that does what it does in a watch form factor.
During the relative short time I have been using the Epix, I have been very impressed, yes the highly detailed maps do lag for fast panning or zooming, but for following a course or route or just getting out there, not an issue. I am looking forward to really putting the unit to the test on the trail in unknown territory in the coming months. I will also update here once I have been able to check out the Topo Lite mapping.
Or drop by and checkout the Epix in our showroom, or give us a call to chat on 03 9598 7888.
See you on the trail.