There are a number of contemporary products available today that would have defied the imaginations of the most creative science fictionists just a few years ago. I doubt Jules Verne or H.G. Wells could have dreamed of something as sophisticated as Garmin’s new Epix GPS watch. A marvel of futuristic technology, it is straight out of a bond film or comic book.
In reality, the GPS watch is nothing new. I reviewed one of the first such wearables a few years ago for Overland Journal, but much like its early hand-held predecessors, had rather humble features and utility. Early GPS watches, and by early I mean just two or three years ago, had terrible battery life, hulking bodies, and lacked even basic mapping abilities. The Epix has overcome all of those drawbacks, and while I’m sure this technology is still in developing stages, is a remarkable leap forward.
Just to rattle off some of the unit’s major bullet points, the Epix has a sensitive GPS and GLONASS receiver for fast positioning anywhere in the world. It has a 1.4-inch color screen that can, for the first time ever, display a variety of maps from the standard base map, to topographical or even satellite imagery maps. It can also be loaded with Garmin’s City Navigator maps for turn by turn directions, something I find quite impressive.
Accessing all of this detailed map information is made extremely easy with the touch-screen interface and five large external buttons. As we would expect of Garmin, it also has a barometric altimeter with an electronic 3-axis compass, as well as other capabilities like temperature tracking and wireless compatibility with ANT+ enabled heart rate monitors, power meters, and various athletic training tools. It is of course, like all Garmin products, waterproof.
With its built-in Bluetooth features, the Epix can be paired to any enabled smartphone or mobile device to facilitate an additional layer of features. It can display incoming text messages, weather alerts, and unfortunately for those of us trying to unplug––emails.
One of the major failings of previous products was abysmal battery performance. By my real-world testing, the Epix regularly holds a charge for 19 hours with full GPS use. During those times I admit I probably interacted with the map more than I might otherwise with handhelds with larger screens. With the GPS functions off and using the Epix strictly in watch mode, Garmin claims it will hold a charge for up to six weeks, which is more than respectable.
Although it is a big watch, current fashion trends seem to accommodate its size. I do find I clip it on doorways, table edges and nearly everything else in proximity of my wrist, but it suffers those knocks without so much as a scratch. It is apparently sufficiently durable.
Navigating through the various functions has been easier than with other watches I’ve tried from Suunto and Garmin. The use of a primary menu button paired to the touch screen is one element that sets the Epix apart from anything else.
The display is decidedly small, but surprisingly easy to read in most light conditions. The displayed map is obviously tiny, but it is a useful map and not just an academic representation of a map.
As an active individual who trains on a bicycle almost daily, the training features are top shelf. Having used Garmin GPS cycling units for the better part of the last seven years, the watch version made for a seamless transition. It is an excellent training tool.
Forget to turn off the GPS function at the end of a workout and you will wake up the next morning to a dead watch. Charging is quick and easy with the included USB harness, but for those of us who use the GPS functions every day, charging has to also be a daily routine. This is not a failing of the watch, but a simple caveat to plugging into satellites with your wrist-worn timepiece.
The cost could be considered high, but given the features you get in return, I struggle with listing value as a downside. Let’s just call it what it is, expensive for a GPS unit, and not cheap for a watch.
Some of the features are a little gimmicky. The temperature tracking isn’t accurate as it’s heavily influenced by clothing, proximity to your body and other variables. It does as well as it can given its location on your wrist. But really, who cares about the temperature readout. I’m hot when I’m hot regardless of the number value applied to that discomfort.
Garmin’s Connect app could use a little rework in my opinion. It’s not the most intuitive app ever, but as I would expect of Garmin given their history of such software systems, it will evolve quickly with user feedback.
Who should buy it
The obvious answer here is––the tech geek. However, I’ll go one further and suggest it will be most welcomed by those who are drawn to the athletic training capabilities. Runners, hikers and cyclists will like the small size, ability to pair to additional training aids, and precise recording of exercises. This is not a gym tool as it is ideally suited to track distance, speed, course tracks and elevation gain, as well as heart rate, power, etc.
Anyone wishing to record a track will like using the Epix, even people traveling in cars or motorcycles. By my estimations it is as accurate as any other Garmin product I’ve ever used with regard to track recording.
Who should not buy it
If you need a genuine navigational tool to get you from point A to B, this is not your device. it will work in that capacity, but you won’t want to use it in that manner with any regularity. The screen is far too small and the ability to input data without a good input option like a real or virtual keyboard is a major limiter. Even recording and labeling waypoints is a bit of a challenge.
Value seekers need not apply here, either. The features and utility provided by the Epix can be had for far less if you don’t mind packaging those elements in a handheld and not a wearable.
For what it is, the Epix is quite impressive. It delivers on its promises better than I expected and really does advance wearable technology to the next level. With other wearables popping up left and right, I still think its biggest competition comes in the form of the modern smartphone which can do everything the Epix can do, but better. So this really is about the decision to have your fancy widget on your wrist and not in your pocket. Given how few people use pocket watches anymore, I guess that is as valid a reason to own an Epix as any.