Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar Review by an UltraRunner

by | Tech

The Garmin Fenix 7 lineup was released on 18 January as a successor to the current Garmin Fenix 6 line of watches. The Fenix 7 is aimed at those who love to spend time outdoors, whether it’s running, cycling, hiking, or doing almost any other sports activity you can think of.

As a long-time Fenix user who has been using the Garmin Fenix line of watches for the past 6 years and knows their ins and outs, I was excited to check out the new Fenix 7 model and see how it stacks up against its predecessors.

If you want to find my overall opinion on the Garmin Fenix line of watches, check out the following overview, where I get down to the nitty-gritty of how I feel about the new Fenix 7 from ultra runners and hikers’ perspective.

DISCLAIMER
I have never been paid by, nor do I have any affiliation with Garmin. I have paid for all my Garmin products with my hard-earned money. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Ok, disclaimer out of the way…

Overview

The Fenix 7 stands at the peak of the evolutionary chain of Garmin’s Fenix line of watches. The watch has always been known and loved for its rugged yet stylish design, great functionality, and long battery life, and in all these categories, the Fenix 7 line of watches has only gotten better. With 57 hours of battery life in standard GPS mode and more than 50% improved solar capabilities, the watch is here to last. The Solar Sapphire model has also gotten highly accurate multi-band GPS. There are nice additions to the navigation and mapping, such as the Up Ahead feature. Combined with the new touch display and faster chip, the navigating capabilities are vastly improved compared to the prior generations of the Fenix line.

In the health and sports department, the watch does not disappoint and offers everything you’ll probably ever need. With all-day wrist-based heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen saturation, respiration rate, advanced sleep-tracking, and more, you will get a robust insight into your health.

From the sports and training features, the Fenix 7 offers probably every conceivable sport profile, and thanks to Garmin’s Firstbeat metrics, also the best in class training features.

So far, so good.

However, not everything is sunshine and rainbows with the Fenix line. There are a few areas where I feel Garmin could have done better. Probably the biggest weakness of the Fenix line is in the software department, where I came across a few bugs and quirks, most notably with the Music player. Also, there are a few function and UI changes that I’m not a fan of, but hopefully, Garmin will address these in upcoming firmware updates. From the hardware point of view, as much as I like the durability of the new Saffire Solar lens, its high reflectivity and lower clarity make the display less readable compared to the Gorilla glass lens. Also, while it’s great to have a sunlight readable always-on display, the MIP display technology starts to show its age, especially compared to the new EPIX model with an AMOLED screen.

Despite these minor quibbles, the Fenix 7 is still my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a robust and stylish outdoor swiss-army knife of sports watches.

The Design & Comfort of the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar

The Garmin Fenix has always been a good-looking watch. Its design has always been sleek yet functional, with buttons that are easy to press even when you’re wearing gloves, and the new Fenix 7 models are no exception.

Size, Weight & Comfort

The Fenix 7 is available in three sizes: 42 mm, 47 mm, and 51 mm. I purchased the 47 mm size Fēnix® 7 Sapphire Solar Carbon Gray DLC Titanium, which feels noticeably more comfortable when compared to the Garmin Fenix 5, which I used to wear prior.

Thanks to the titanium bezel, the Fenix 7 is now 12 grams lighter than the Fenix 5, which contributes to the overall comfort. In addition, the bezel now also covers the lugs of the watch, which improves its durability. Garmin also decided to revive the start/stop button guard from the Fenix 5 Plus series, which should prevent accidental presses. The buttons press is similar to Fenix 6, but some of them feel a bit mushy, so hopefully, it will get better with use.

The overall size of the watch is almost the same as prior models, except for thickness. The watch is now 1 mm thinner than the Fenix 5, which may not seem like much, but it contributes to the overall comfort.

The Size of the 47 mm Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar
The size/dimensions of the watch are 47 x 47 x 14.5 mm weighing 73 grams (including band). The band will fit wrist sizes with a circumference of 125-208 mm (4.92-8.19 inches). The watchband is 22 mm (0.87 inches) wide and feels comfortable on the wrist.

The Display

The always-on MIP display of the Fenix line, which started with the Fenix 3, has evolved over the years and is still very good, but somehow a bit lacking when compared to its newly released EPIX brother with an AMOLED screen.

The resolution is identical as on the prior Fenix 6, which is a bit of a letdown. Also, take note that if you decide to go for one of the Sapphire Solar models, the visibility is diminished due to the Sapphire crystal. It is super durable but unfortunately more reflective than the Gorilla Glass, which is used on the basic model, or even when compared to the glass used on the Fenix 5.

A nice addition to the display department is its touch sensitivity. Although I initially thought that the tactile feedback of the buttons on the Fenix series was all I needed, I stand corrected. I have to say that I really like the option of interacting with the watch interface with my fingers, which is way faster and more convenient when scrubbing through the menus, glances, etc. You can even set up different scenarios where you want the touch screen to be enabled or disabled. I love that.

The New Optical HR Sensor – Garmin ELEVATE V4

If you would scroll through Garmin’s forum, you would find that one of the biggest complaints about the Fenix 6 was concerning the accuracy of its optical HR sensor. The Fenix 7 now comes with the latest Garmin ELEVATE V4, which has been around for some time now on other, newer Garmin models, such as the Venu 2 or Forerunner 945 LTE. The fourth-generation Elevate sensor is claimed to be more accurate than ever before. Judging by my tests, I can confirm the improvement of the accuracy and responsiveness to the heart rate changes, especially during activity. Another good news is that there is a glass covering of the ELEVATE sensor, which should mitigate the possible issue of the sensor cracking (due to sweat), which was a widespread issue reported on the Fenix 5 Series.

The biggest benefit of the wrist-based heart rate for me as a runner is tracking my resting heart rate and stress score, which I use as one of the ways to track my training adaptation and recovery. In this department, I didn’t find any noticeable difference compared to my old Fenix watch, which is not a bad thing. It shows that the data is consistent, and I can use them in my training.

Generally, I can say I’m very pleased with the accuracy of the optical HR sensor so far. However, there was one situation during the testing where one of the green flashing LEDs on the HR sensor started to flash dimmer, which had a negative effect on the accuracy of the heart rate readings. Fortunately, I was able to fix this issue by restarting the watch. This happened only once, and I wasn’t able to reproduce this issue again.

Health and Sports Software Features

The Fenix 6 has been already jam-packed with health and sports features, so it’s not a surprise that from the software side of things, there are no groundbreaking changes. Instead, the watch has become even more polished and has gotten a couple of nice features making the watch an even more complete tool to track your athletic performance and health metrics. Instead of going over every minor feature upgrade, I’ll mention in greater detail only those that I find most significant.

Health Features

Garmin has built a robust set of health features into its Fenix line over the years. Features such as 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring, stress tracking, body battery, blood oxygen saturation, advanced sleep-tracking, respiration rate, and more will give you a solid insight into your health. This year, Garmin added a new health snapshot feature that builds on many already existing metrics.

HEALTH SNAPSHOT FEATURE – allows you to take a “snapshot” of your cardiovascular health in a two-minute session. All you have to do is sit still for two minutes while it measures your heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen saturation, respiration rate, and stress. After that, you get a nice report of all of the metrics that summarizes your current cardiovascular condition.

As of right now, I don’t find this feature super helpful, as all of these metrics are used and interpreted more clearly in different features such as the body battery, recovery advisor, etc.

However, in the health snapshot feature, there are two new heart rate variability metrics: SDRR and RMSSD, and those, if tracked periodically, have the potential to be a helpful indicator of your recovery status and training readiness as well as your overall cardiac health.

SLEEP TRACKING – with this iteration of the Fenix line, I can attest that Garmin has improved the overall accuracy compared to my older Fenix watch. While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the individual sleep stages, I can certainly say that it tracks much more accurately the overall sleep duration as well as my awake time during the night, which was almost never logged correctly on my old Fenix.

SLEEP MODE – is a new feature that lets you configure the watch behavior during sleep. I think of it as do not disturb mode on steroids, and I really like it. On my older Fenix watch, I used to turn off Bluetooth every night to avoid exposure to EMF radiation and save battery life. But with the Fenix 7, I can set a sleep mode schedule for every day of the week, and the watch will take care of it. Additionally, there are some neat power-saving features such as automatic toggle of the battery saver mode, simple energy-efficient watch face, ability to set display timeout, different backlight settings, etc.

However, there is a strange quirk with the watch in Sleep Mode. When I have display time out turned on, the watch goes blank after a couple of seconds even though I’m interacting with the screen. I don’t know if this is intentional or a bug, but it’s something that I hope Garmin will consider changing/fixing in a future firmware update.

Sport Features

In the sports arena, Garmin has provided mostly a few minor improvements, such as new sports profiles, enhanced mapping capabilities, new graphs and data fields, etc. When it comes to major updates, this year’s most significant feature is the new Real-Time Stamina, which I will discuss in greater detail in the following few paragraphs.

REAL-TIME STAMINA – is a feature that helps you gauge your effort throughout your cycling or running activity to help you avoid overexerting yourself too soon. This can be a great tool to help you gauge your effort while racing your local 10K but even better when running a 100K ultramarathon trail race since running pace is not exactly a helpful metric when dealing with 18 000 feet of climbing. I can imagine this metric could help me prevent a couple of blowups in the past.

Wondering what the Real-Time Stamina feature can show you?

    1. Current Stamina – shows you your short-term potential to perform at a current effort level. This metric is closely related to your anaerobic lactate threshold. To put it simply, if you are pushing hard during climbs or sprints, the current stamina bar will deplete quickly, but if you are just casually chugging along, it will slowly decrease. In certain scenarios, it can even increase, for example, when you slow down to recover after a hard interval. When your current stamina begins to run out, you’ll discover that your capacity to keep pushing hard is severely reduced.
    2. Potential Stamina – displays your overall fatigue. The closer you are to the 0%, the less likely you’ll be able to maintain your effort even at a moderate intensity. However, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to continue with the activity, but it will likely be a struggle.

    3. Distance Remaining – gives you an estimated distance that you can cover with the current effort level. This has the potential to be a good pacing aid, especially for longer races such as marathons and ultramarathons.

    4. Time Remaining – like the previous metric, it gives you an estimated time that you can keep running with the current effort level

    UP AHEAD – is a new navigation feature that provides information about upcoming course points along your route. To use this feature, you’ll have to create or upload your course to the Garmin Connect first and then set all the course points there. The process of adding and editing the course points is a little bit clunky, in my opinion, but I’m glad we have this option now. Once everything is set and uploaded to your watch, you should see the upcoming points whenever you approach your next course point set in the Up Ahead list.

    As an ultra runner and hiker, I find this feature quite useful since now I can add all of the checkpoints and aid stations along the route of my racecourse and have peace of mind that I’m not going to miss them. Similarly, if I’m out hiking, I can add to the course all important places I don’t want to miss, such as viewpoints, huts, etc. While testing, the Up Ahead feature worked mostly very well, but for the first time when I loaded my course with the course points on the watch, the Up Ahead list was blank. On the second attempt, all course points loaded correctly. So before you head out the door, make sure everything is working so that you are not unpleasantly surprised on the trail.

    IMPROVED RACE PREDICTOR – in the new race predictor, you can now see not only your current predicted time for different distances but also a detailed trendline of how your pace is progressing over time. The only minor complaint is that this widget is not scrollable, like, e.g., the HR widget, and is not accessible via the Garmin Connect. It would be great to look at how my times are improving or getting worse over a longer period of time.

    RUN/WALK/IDLE DETECTION – is a new chart for the running app that allows you to view in the Garmin Connect how much time of the run you spent actually running, walking, or standing. I find it a helpful tool for post-race analysis for my ultra races where I can see how much time I have spent at an aid station, etc. It can be especially helpful if you are going to run the same course in the future again, so you can better estimate where you can improve your time savings.

    Battery Life + Solar Capability

    The battery life of the Fenix line has always been one of my favorite features, and it’s probably the number one reason to choose the Fenix 7 over the newly released Epix. Yes, you can find sports watches such as the Garmin Enduro or the COROS VERTIX 2 with even better battery life than the Fenix 7, but if you don’t want to give up on any of the great training or mapping features, then the Fenix model is the clear winner.

    The battery life on the Fenix watches has been improving steadily over the years, and with the Fenix 7, it’s the best yet! While the chart below can give you an idea of how long you can expect your Fenix to last, your mileage may vary, depending on how heavy user of the watch you are.

    To give you a better idea of what to expect, I’ve been using the Fenix 7 heavily for a week now, and I’m at 50%. As you might guess, I’ve been playing around with the watch a lot and additionally running with GPS for approximately 1,5 hours every day (1 hour total with music and 3 hours with maps). As with my prior Fenix, I always strive to optimize for the best battery life while keeping the core features such as the wrist-based heart rate always on. To do so, I turn off the pulse oximeter, set the backlight timeout to 4 seconds, and during sleep, I have the Sleep Mode turned on. 50% of battery capacity after a week of use may not seem like much, but trust me, I’ve been interacting with the watch probably 4-5 times as much as I generally do.

    One of the best things about the battery is the improved battery life for the GPS-only mode. In my experience, it’s plenty accurate for most of my runs, and you can squeeze out approximately 57 hours of GPS activity on a single charge and even more with solar.

    CHARGING
    Is the battery of your Fenix 7 about to die? Fear not, the watch charges pretty quickly too. Plugin your Fenix for literally 2 minutes, and you will have enough power to run over an hour in GPS mode. Also, the battery can be charged from 0 to 100 % in 2,5 hours.

    SOLAR CAPABILITY
    The solar capability on the Fenix 7 has been significantly improved. The solar surface is now over 50% larger compared to prior models and can provide a lot more charging power.

    Since it is wintertime now where I live, I haven’t been able to test the solar charging capabilities of the Fenix 7 extensively. However, in my short test, I found that on a sunny winter (mostly clear) day, I was able to gather 145 000 lux hours in just 2 hours. This is quite impressive given that Garmin states you only need 150 000 lux hours (3 hours of 50 000 lux a day) to gain the extra battery life they advertise. Also, it was surprising to see that even with the winter sun, which is not as strong as in the summer months, I was able to gather this many lux hours in such a short period of time.

    GPS Accuracy

    If you have ever visited Garmins forums in past years, then you have likely come across the hotly debated topic of GPS accuracy. While I have never complained about running on the other side of the road than my Fenix actually recorded, I do believe it is important to have accurate GPS data for training purposes and especially for racing.

    When it comes to GPS settings, Fenix 7 now offers 4 different levels of GPS accuracy:

    1. GPS only
    2. All Systems (GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BeiDou, and QZSS) – not all systems have to be active simultaneously. Instead, Garmin automatically chooses the best for your location.
    3. All Systems + Multi-band – uses a combination of the prior and the multi-band GPS chip, which should offer the best accuracy, but at a significant cost to the battery life.
    4. UltraTrack – gives the least accurate GPS tracks but significantly improves the battery life.

    After two weeks of testing all 3 different GPS modes (except UltraTrack mode, which I rarely use), I found the accuracy to be very good. For most of my runs in the city, I use GPS only since I find the accuracy to be plenty accurate for my everyday runs, and it’s hugely improved compared to my old Fenix 5. It’s hard to quantify the accuracy of the GPS, but if I were to give my general accuracy estimates, it would look as follows:

    Settings for both devices: GPS recording – every second

    • Fenix 5 (GPS+Glonass) – deviations* from the actual route 10-20 m (32 – 64 feet)
    • Fenix 7 – GPS only – deviations* from the actual route 5-10 m (16 – 32 feet)
    • Fenix 7 – All systems – deviations* from the actual route 4-7 m (14- 22 feet)
    • Fenix 7 – All Systems + Multi-band – deviations* from the actual route 1-3 m (10 feet)

    *Deviation here means the degree to which the device incorrectly determined my location. This does not mean that the device constantly states my position incorrectly. On the contrary, most of the time, all devices show the position within a few meters to the actual one.

    While the total distance of the Fenix 5 compared to that of the Fenix 7 was very comparable, with only 50 meters (55 yards) difference in a 10 km (6.21 miles) long run. The deviations from the actual location of where I ran were significantly worse on the older Fenix 5, with deviations up to 20 m (64 feet) of my exact location.

    When it comes to comparison strictly within different settings of the Fenix 7, the GPS-only deviations may seem significantly worse than All Systems + Multi-band settings at first glance. However, keep in mind that the deviations represent only extreme values, and generally, the tracks were very comparable in all three GPS settings. Of course, whenever you are running in a dense urban area with tall buildings or under tree cover, the Multi-band mode will yield a slightly better GPS track at certain places. The question you have to ask yourself is whether the improvement of accuracy is worth the significant battery life penalty.

    Also, the current pace on my older Fenix 5 was always jumping up and down, making it almost impossible to use. I’m glad to see that this metric is now, thanks to its improved GPS chip, significantly more stable.

    Overall, I’m very impressed with the GPS accuracy of the Fenix 7, and I hope it will finally put a nail in the coffin of the Garmin GPS accuracy debate.

    Music

    The ability to play music straight from the Fenix has been around since Fenix 5 plus. Nowadays, you can either download your music and podcast directly to the watch via Garmin Express or install a 3rd party app via Garmin IQ Store, such as Deezer or Spotify and sync up your music that way. Wondering how well it works?

    While I was able to get all my music onto the watch (although not without hiccups, more on that later), I found that the sound quality of the tracks was significantly worse than when I would play the music from my phone using my AirPods.

    When I checked out what people were saying on the Garmin forums, I found that I’m not the only one experiencing this issue. I’m currently running the latest firmware version 7.20, and it seems like Garmin is aware of this problem and is working on a fix, so let’s hope they will resolve it in a future firmware update.

    Also, while transferring music to the watch, the Garmin Express app on my Mac would crash multiple times, and my uploaded playlists wouldn’t appear in the playlist section on the watch even though the songs were transferred correctly. So more hiccups there.

    While I can listen to music on my Fenix 7, the experience has not been great so far. I guess that is the price for being an early adopter. Hopefully, Garmin will work out all the kinks in the near future.

    What is the Difference Between Epix (gen 2) and Fenix 7? Which One to Choose?

    The Garmin Epix is a 47 mm case size only and offers a nicer AMOLED screen compared to the transflective MIP display of the Fenix 7, but at a significant cost to the battery life. Also, the Epix watch is $100 more expensive.

    What is the Difference Between Fenix 6 and Fenix 7? Which One to Choose?

    The biggest difference between Fenix 6 and Fenix 7 is improved solar capabilities and battery life, as well as the addition of the touch screen. From the sensor side of things, we now have the addition of highly accurate Multi-band GPS (Sapphire Solar models only) and improved wrist-based heart rate sensor Elevate 4. There are also a couple of nice design updates, such as lug protection and a start/stop button guard against accidental presses. In terms of software, the Fenix 7 has seen a few minor updates, including new sports profiles, activity charts, and stats, as well as some UI changes. There are also bigger updates, such as the Real-Time Stamina feature for running and biking and the Up-Ahead feature for improved navigation. A unique addition to the 7X model is the built-in LED flashlight.

    Did You Find this Post Helpful?

    I hope I could help you decide whether the Fenix 7 is the right watch for you. If you choose to get one for yourself, consider using the Amazon links below. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, so I get a tiny commission. It doesn’t cost you a thing, but it is a big help for this website.

    As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

    If you purchase anything using Amazon links on this website, I will get a tiny commission. It doesn’t cost you a thing, but it helps this website grow. Thank you for your help!

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    2 Comments

    1. Julien

      Hi,
      Did you have the chance to compare sapphire display vs regular display on the fenix 7? If yes, is there a big difference ?
      After using the sapphire model for several days, do you regret this choice and would have rather pick the non sapphire ? Or in the end you alwaus manage to read the screen?

      Thanks in avance for your answers, I’m currently hesitating between 7s solar and 7s solar sapphire

      Reply
      • Kuba Czudek

        Hi Julien, no I didn’t have a chance to compare it to the Fenix 7 non sapphire, but I compared it with my old Fenix 5 which has a glass screen as well. For me personally the slightly more reflective screen of the Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire is not a big issue, it’s perfectly readable at all times, but at a certain angles it has a slight haze, but for me it’s no big deal. I’ve been happily using the Fenix 7 for close to 2 months now, and the bigger issues are on the software side as I mentioned in my review.

        Reply

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