Garmin has been cranking out so many high-quality watches that it’s often hard to keep up with what exactly changes from one model to the next, or what new features justify upgrading your current (probably pretty awesome) watch for a new, even more awesome one. Last year, new Fenix 7 and Epix watches were launched on the same day, with very little to distinguish them aside from massive battery life and three size options on one (the Fenix) versus a crisp, brilliant display on the other (Epix). This year, they did the same thing, releasing Pro versions of both the Fenix 7 and Epix lines on the same day.
Garmin’s “Pro” model products are much less common than with other brands. It’s a designation Garmin uses for relatively modest product upgrades in between larger upgrade cycles, so users shouldn’t expect as many new bells and whistles on an Epix Pro as they would on the eventual successor. (To further confuse things, the current Epix standard is officially called Epix Gen 2 instead of Epix 2, so the next model up might be Epix 2, Epix Gen 3 or maybe just Epix 3—your guess is as good as ours.) Regardless, the Pro designation is a means of folding in some new advances without heightening the expectations of entirely new product launches, but the tangible effect here is that distinctions between the Epix and Fenix watches now seem blurrier than ever. Last time around, we reviewed the Fenix 7X watch, so this time we tested the Epix Pro (51mm version) in part to see if we could identify any major differentiation between the model lines. And none of this even considers the Enduro 2, another amazing Garmin watch that we called the “premier watch for endurance activity in all conditions” just last fall. You’ll be forgiven for losing track of which watch offers what, and the differences between them.
Epix Pro Changes
One of the most significant changes to the Epix Pro compared to the regular Epix is that the Pro is offered in three sizes (42, 47 or 51mm) while the regular Epix only comes in 51mm. This is a major consideration for runners with smaller wrists or those who simply don’t want to feel encumbered by an overly large device. The available sizes of the Epix Pro now mirror those for the Fenix 7 and Fenix 7 Pro. All three sizes are available with standard Corning Gorilla Glass or sapphire crystal versions for $100 more.
All Epix Pro models get the cool flashlight option previously found only on the Fenix 7X. This once-gimmicky-seeming feature on the Fenix 7X has grown to become one of our favorites, as we use the watch seemingly every night to light our way to the bathroom or get quick visibility in dark spaces. Every Epix Pro model also has multiband-GNSS as the standard GPS mode, which remedies our complaint about this feature previously being available only on top-of-the-price-range sapphire editions.
One very interesting upgrade is Garmin’s new Elevate V5 optical HR sensor which has the physical hardware for ECG readings, although it’s important to note that ECG is not a spec feature on this watch and Garmin is very noncommittal about whether it will be. Pricing for the Epix Pro is $899 for standard glass versions of the 42mm and 47mm models and $999 for the 51mm model, with titanium sapphire editions of each version an additional $100.
One key area where the consistency across Epix models breaks down is in battery life. The 51mm version gets a more robust battery, while the casing on the smaller models can’t accommodate the same battery. This is where comparing battery life between models becomes very tricky because, under certain circumstances, the new 51mm Epix Pro with the amazingly crisp colorful display approaches the battery life of the significantly duller MIP-display Fenix 7 watches. It takes a full chart to keep track of it all:
If you compare GPS times of the 51mm Epix Pro in gesture mode with the Fenix 7X in non-solar mode, the numbers are remarkably similar. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily indicate a practical user experience, and we’ll touch on this more in the AMOLED display section below.
In addition to updated physical features, the Epix Pro watches introduce a couple of training metrics that will eventually be integrated into existing Fenix 7 and regular Epix devices. These are visible as new metrics called Endurance Score and Hill Score, both of which are calculated in the Garmin Connect app and visible on the watch in widget views if you select them. All three models in the Epix Pro lineup also see nice updates in the amount of map storage available (32GB) and display enhancements such as shaded relief and weather overlays.
AMOLED is an acronym for “active matrix organic light-emitting diodes,” and has been a common technology in large display devices such as televisions and laptops as well as watches over the past several years. They produce displays that have crisp brightness as well as refined pixelation, so the level of clarity and detail is significantly enhanced over the traditional memory-in-pixel (MIP) displays seen across the Garmin lineup. (It also allows for emojis to display accurately on your wrist—if that’s important to you.) From an image quality standpoint, there’s no comparison, but two drawbacks have prevented AMOLED technology from being used more widely among GPS devices: visibility in direct sunlight and rapid battery drain.
A couple of design elements help to offset those drawbacks. For visibility in direct light, the technology has improved significantly in recent years so that the color contrast and definition remain prominent in sunlight. If you only have a moment for a quick glance at your watch, the brightness and definition of the AMOLED screen are impressive. This was most noticeable during swim workouts where the Epix Pro is significantly easier to read than a Forerunner watch while exiting a flip turn.
The updated, more robust battery mentioned above is a key upgrade to the Epix Pro, and is what helps make the battery life of this model kind of comparable to the Fenix 7 models. The primary mechanism of preserving battery life is for the display to go dark when it thinks you’re not looking at it—then when you rotate your wrist toward your face to look at it, the display illuminates at its full intensity. There are two options for this: in the default setting, the screen goes completely dark when not in use, while the more battery-draining “always on” mode keeps a small portion of the display slightly lit so you can read it without rotating your wrist.
In theory, this is great, but in reality, it doesn’t always work the way you want. There is a minor delay between wrist-turning and screen illumination, so if you are just looking for a quick glance (such as if you’re driving), you may have to stare at the screen longer than you’d prefer. Additionally, the degree of gesturing required to turn on the display is sometimes excessive. For example, in those tricky situations where you’re trying to slowly check your watch when talking with someone, and you don’t want them to notice, you’ll get frustrated that subtle movements don’t work. Additionally, the “always on” screen can be hard to read on its own, so again, in those situations where you’re trying to do a quick or stealthy watch check, the face can be hard to read.
One interesting adaptation to improve screen clarity and battery life is that activity screens only use white digits on a black background, as opposed to the black digits on a white background which is standard on most GPS watches. We got used to it pretty easily, but if you prefer the “classic” look, you’re out of luck.
Battery Life Considerations
The lack of solar capability is a fairly significant drawback in any comparison of battery life between the Fenix 7 and Epix models, particularly now that all Fenix and Pro models have solar capability. The best-case scenario for Epix Pro battery life goes like this: if you keep it in the default display setting of screen activation only with gestures, and use it primarily indoors or at night, or in weather conditions where solar exposure is minimal, the battery life is comparable to the Fenix 7 Pro series. But for most of us who like to see our watch face dependably or exercise in the sunshine every now and then, the battery life of the Epix Pro is still a liability compared to the Fenix 7 or Enduro 2.
One cool update to the Epix Pro is that charging time is noticeably faster than any other full-featured Garmin watch to date. It only takes one hour to get a full charge of the battery, and even plugging it in for 10-15 minutes while getting ready for bed gives it a significant jump. So, while you have to charge this watch more frequently than a Fenix 7, it takes hardly any time to do so.
Navigational Storage and Display
All Epix Pro models include Garmin’s new shaded relief maps that will come to Fenix 7 and regular Epix units through a firmware update. The actual process of accessing, creating and downloading maps doesn’t change—the main upgrade is being able to see the subtle shading on relief maps as you would on high-end topographic or 3D maps. With the AMOLED screen, display clarity is a major advantage for the Epix Pro over the Fenix, Forerunner and Enduro watches, and makes map reading super easy even on the 42 and 47mm versions. The AMOLED display is also a major benefit when scrolling through a map on your wrist, as the more muted display of the Fenix 7 can make it easier to overlook a landmark on the map.
Endurance Score and Hill Score
Two new physiological metrics appear on the Epix Pro and Fenix 7 Pro before eventually landing on older models. Endurance Score looks at your overall activity duration in conjunction with the intensity level and assesses the duration of each training session relative to your VO2max. It allows activities such as swimming and SUP to factor into the overall VO2max assessment, which is an update to traditional VO2max assessments that are exclusively determined by running or swimming. This is a particularly compelling metric for ultrarunners, as it helps define your ability to sustain performances over long periods. Status is indicated by a numeric score that tops out roughly in the 11,000 range for professional endurance athletes. This number is dynamic, often changing with each workout, and we saw a consistent correlation between completing a long training run and a boost in the endurance score. Further insight and accuracy come from analyzing metrics from your activity history, going back 30 days, and mapping trends in the endurance score over that period of time.
Another metric of high interest to ultrarunners is Hill Score, which combines assessments of running power and fatigue resistance on climbs. You don’t need to set anything up for this to happen as the device knows when you are starting a climb of more than 2% grade and automatically starts tracking the information. As any trail runner knows, the biomechanics and energy demands of hill running are far different than running on flat terrain which is why simply doing high-intensity track efforts won’t make you a good climber. The hills score ranges from 0 to 100 and indicates your relative standing in comparison to your gender and age. As with the endurance score, several months of data are compiled into the current hill score, but more recent efforts are weighted more heavily. With both of these metrics, we initially found some scoring fluctuation that didn’t always correspond reasonably to our most recent workout, but with continued use both of these numbers tended to stabilize and change more predictably.
Epix Pro vs. Epix vs. Fenix 7
Probably the most compelling target audience for the Epix Pro over the regular Epix are users who want to match and exceed the full feature set of the regular Epix, but in a smaller case that fits better on smaller wrists. As mentioned earlier, software and analytic features will trickle down to existing Garmin devices, so that isn’t a reason to upgrade. However, hardware items like the flashlight and new HR sensor are only available on the Epix Pro, so if you really want a flashlight or have faith that Garmin will eventually roll out ECG support for the HR sensor, perhaps you can make that case for yourself.
In regards to the Epix Pro vs. Fenix 7 (or Fenix 7 Pro), the decision point is identical to what it was with the earlier editions of these models: the relative importance of maximum battery life vs. having a brilliant and beautiful display. For multi-day outings, or if we are traveling for a few days without charging access prior to a big adventure, we’re probably sticking with the Fenix models for the peace of mind that comes with not worrying about battery percentage. For everyday training and 24-hour use, it’s really hard to go back to an MIP display after you’ve become accustomed to the AMOLED screen, assuming the gesture-on quirkiness doesn’t bug you too much. Similarly, adventurers who frequently download and consult maps on their wrist (as opposed to a smartphone) will have a huge advantage with the Epix Pro and its crisp map clarity.