Why you can trust ZDNET
:ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.Our process
'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar review: Long battery life, useful LED light, fantastic build quality
The Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar is not an inexpensive watch, but it may be the last wearable you need for years. It supports an exhaustive number of activities, lasts for weeks, has a big visible display, is built to last with luxury materials, and excels in just about every respect.
There are three available sizes of the Fenix 7 series: 42mm, 47mm and 51mm. There are also three options for editions: standard, solar, and sapphire solar. This results in 16 possible combinations of the Fenix 7, ranging in price from $699.99 to $999.99. We were provided with the opportunity to test out the 51mm sapphire solar model with black DLC titanium with a black silicone band, priced at $899.99.
The Garmin Fenix 7 series builds upon the popular Garmin Fenix 6 and is the most powerful Garmin watch for outdoor activities. The Garmin MARQ series is more expensive with more luxury materials, but the Fenix 7 offers a newer user experience and the latest in Garmin wearable technology. There are more expensive Tactix models for special operations and Descent dive watches, but for the majority of people who participate in outdoor activities, the Fenix 7 series is the ultimate option.
Devices like the Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE offer a similar experience when it comes to the supported activities, but the Forerunner is optimized for runners with a fiber-reinforced polymer body, light-weight, lower level of water resistance, and smaller form factor. Fenix 7 watches are made with stainless steel or titanium with Gorilla Glass DX or sapphire crystal lenses and 10 ATM water resistance.
Once you make a decision to choose a Fenix 7 watch, the first thing you should select is the case size that best fits your wrist. Most people consider me a "big" guy at 73 inches and 250lbs, so big watches fit me well, and I like the substantial size of large watches on my wrist. The 51mm version fits me fine, while the 47mm is also probably the perfect size. The 51mm model comes with a large 26mm wide band system, the same as the COROS Vertix 2, so the watch and band are clearly not made for those with smaller wrists. All four available 51mm models include solar charging by default, while only one option does not include the sapphire display. The other two sizes have standard, solar, and sapphire solar options.
The 51mm Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar watch display is 1.4 inches in diameter with 280 x 280 pixels in a sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel panel. Given this display technology, the display is always on with an optional backlight that lights up in low-light conditions. Contrast this approach with the new Garmin Epix that has an AMOLED display that turns off by default with an option to enable an always-on mode at the cost of about a 50% reduction in battery life.
A solar charging ring is positioned around the visible watch face with a titanium bezel around the sapphire glass that then transitions into a fiber-reinformed polymer case and a titanium rear cover panel.
The display supports touch screen swipes and taps but can also be turned off if you prefer the typical Garmin five-button navigation system. I like the touch screen for quickly swiping up and down through the glances.
A single press of the top-left button toggles the backlight on and off, while a press and hold opens up the circular controls feature. The center-left button moves up the display, and the bottom left button moves down. Press and hold the center-left button to access the vast menu of settings and options on the watch.
Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar review: in pictures
The top right button, start, opens up your favorite activity list and then is used as a selection button. The bottom right is the lap/back button so that you can go back one screen in your navigation. You can customize press/hold and multiple button presses to serve as hot keys for other functions. Find these options in the settings of the watch.
One thing to note about the top right button is that Garmin has the case material built up on each side of the button to prevent accidentally pressing it while participating in your activity.
If you look at the top of the Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar, you will notice a white piece embedded into the fiber-reinforced polymer case material. This is the integrated LED flashlight, and it is more useful than you might think. Check out the watch software section below for all the details on how to use this powerful light.
A comfortable silicone quick-release 26mm watch band is included in the package. The silicone band is a QuickFit band that you can quickly clip out of the pin to swap bands. Garmin has a large selection of official QuickFit bands available for $49.99 each.
As we saw first with the Coros Vertix 2, the Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar supports multi-band frequency and multi-GNSS settings, so you can have multiple positioning systems enabled for improved location tracking in certain conditions as you workout around the world. TopoActive maps are preloaded on the Fenix 7X with the ability to download other maps from around the world too. Snow skiing maps, golf courses, and more are supported on the Fenix 7X.
Display: 1.4-inch 280x280-pixel resolution, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel with Power Sapphire lens
Materials: Fiber-reinforced polymer case material with titanium bezel and rear cover. Silicone quick-release 26mm watch band
Storage: 32GB internal storage for up to 2000 songs
Battery: Up to 28 days in smartwatch mode or 37 days with three hours a day of solar charging, up to 89 hours with GPS/122 hours with solar, up to 63 hours with all satellite systems/77 with solar, and up to 16 hours in GPS mode with music playing
Dimensions: 51 x 51 x 14.9mm and 89g (with silicone band)
The software on the watch is the same we have seen on recent Garmin watches, with the watch face showing at all times. You can press, or scroll with your finger, to move up and down through the glances that you select for your watch. Pressing the start button, or tapping on the glance, will open up more details of that particular widget and then you can scroll through even more information. You can press the back, lower right button, or even swipe from left to right across the display to go back. Glances are very handy and useful for viewing and accessing the most important information to you. I spend the majority of my time with the watch interacting with the glances.
Pressing the start button in the upper-right takes you to your favorite workouts/activities, and then you can press it again to start the activity. After selecting that activity and then pressing the up button, you can customize specific workout settings, including data pages and many more functions. You can also customize workout settings in the Garmin Connect smartphone app and have them synced over to the watch.
The Garmin watch software supports up to seven hot keys, consisting of press and hold or pressing of two buttons together, so you can quickly carry out functions such as screenshot, music controls, Garmin Pay, and more.
By default, when you double press the top left button, the LED flashlight turns on. Another double press of this button turns it off, and at first, you might think that is all there is to it, but you would be wrong. Go into the controls page and then select the flashlight icon for much more functionality.
Once the flashlight app is launched, the top right start button is used to toggle the light on and off. There are four white bars and one red one on the display. Tap the bars to choose the white brightness level or the red light. When you turn the light off, the watch will remember your last setting and activate the same light option the next time you turn on the flashlight.
While in the flashlight app, press and hold the center-left button to access even more light settings. Here you can choose either strobe or distress patterns. If you select strobe, then available options include blitz, beacon, pulse, blink, and custom. You can select them and then scroll up and down to view the light pattern. The light pattern is shown at the top of the watch display too.
When you select distress, then the light will flash SOS in white light while showing the owner and emergency contact on the face, so this might be useful if you find yourself in some kind of dire emergency situation.
There are also flashlight strobe modes that you can setup for specific activities. For example, in a trail run, scroll down to the flashlight strobe option. You can select the strobe to activate after sunset and then have the light match your cadence. This cadence option means that a backward swing will light up in red and forward in white. The intent here is that you can see ahead and then be seen by people behind you in red. The cadence mode works fairly well, but you can also choose to have the light shine in blink, pulse, beacon, or blitz patterns.
Press and hold on to the center-left button to jump into all of the watch settings that include watch face selection and customization, clocks, history, notifications and alerts, appearance, sensors, map, music, connectivity, health & wellness, system, and much more. There is an exhaustive amount of customization available on the Garmin Epix once you jump into these settings.
Something else that is new but fairly simple at this time is that Garmin Connect IQ can be added as a "sport" for installing and uninstalling apps directly from the watch. I have installed music apps that can be uninstalled, and I can select from a couple of other recommended ones to install.
There are a huge number of sports and activities that can be installed and used on the Fenix 7X. We play pickleball with my family, so I was excited to see that sport added to the extensive list of options. There are several winter sports, including ski, snowboard, backcountry ski, cross country classic ski, cross country skate ski, and snowshoe with skiing maps also available. Water sports include stand-up paddleboard, surf, kiteboard, windsurf, kayak, row, boat, and more.
One new data page you can select when you workout is called Stamina. The top wide stamina percentage and status bar shows your current stamina as you train in the activity. The lower left stamina is your potential, and this figure will decrease over the time of your workout. It's an interesting metric to gauge how hard you are pushing things and how much gas you might have left in the tank.
Something new for Garmin is the nearly complete interface synchronization of the watch settings in the Garmin Connect app and the real-time syncing function that takes place when you change a setting on your phone to have it synced to the watch. In the past, you would make a few settings changes in the Garmin Connect smartwatch app and then initiate a syncing session to have them synced over. Now when you make a change, it is synced over automatically.
There are also many more watch settings mirrored in the Garmin Connect smartphone app as Garmin works to streamline the Garmin software experience and create a richer experience for people. I find it easier to setup specific exercise details on my phone's large display rather than the watch, so I really appreciate this functionality and wonder if companies like COROS have been helping motivate Garmin to take steps like this. Sensors and accessories remain a watch-only function, but that makes sense since it requires a direct Bluetooth or ANT+ connection from the watch to the accessory.
Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, and it is a powerful and capable application that closely matches the Connect website experience.
When you first launch the smartphone app, you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: heart rate, steps, Body Battery, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, calories, Pulse OX, and several more. There are also toggles to see yesterday's stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day, a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.
Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendars, a news feed, and notifications. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these. In challenges, you can earn badges for various challenges, setup a challenge with your connection, and more. It's a great way to get motivated to get out and exercise. The calendar views show you bars for your various status levels and are interesting to view over a long period of time. The news feed presents summary information from your connections, while the notifications page shows notifications, such as likes, from your Garmin connections.
Tapping the upper-left three-bar icon (Android) or lower more option (iPhone) presents a list of other areas to visit in the app, including insights, activity stats, performance stats, health stats, training, gear, connections, groups, safety & tracking, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface matches what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.
There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to Settings>Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the watch. You do not have this per-app control when connected to an iPhone.
With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with text you have already setup in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses.
While there are a plethora of workout options on the watch, you can also download preset workouts from Garmin Connect. Even better, you can create your own customizable workouts with over 1,400 exercises to choose from. 75 preset animated workouts are provided for cardio, yoga, strength, HIIT, and pilates, so you really have no excuse not to be able to develop workouts that appeal to you and meet your health and wellness needs. I still want to see Garmin have a Workout sport since it is still a bit clunky to figure out if you need to select cardio, strength, HIIT, or something else to get to your workout. This is one area that may be confusing to new users, and I hope to see it addressed in a future Garmin Connect update.
The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.
Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix
The first question that potential customers will ask, and one that I explored since I also purchased my own Garmin Epix, is, "Should I buy a Garmin Fenix 7 or an Epix model?"
One major differentiator between the Fenix 7 and the Epix is the display. If the display on your existing Garmin Fenix or Forerunner has been just fine for you and you don't look at your friends with an Apple Watch in envy, then you should consider the Fenix 7. The same size, 47mm, Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar watch is $100 less than the Black Titanium Garmin Epix, so you can save a bit of money too.
Battery life on the Garmin Epix is very good; however, the comparable Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar will get you a couple of more days in smartwatch mode, and the big Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar I am reviewing provides far longer battery life. Battery life needs are clearly something that will drive people to select the 51mm Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar, and it truly is refreshing to charge up the watch rarely.
While you can set the Garmin Epix display to be always-on, the battery life is severely impacted. It's awesome to have the watch face, with selected data, always visible on the Fenix 7X without having to lift my wrist or push a button. Both devices look great in low light and in direct sunlight, but the Epix is brilliant in low light and dark conditions.
The integrated LED flashlight is one other significant feature that the Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar has that is not present on the Epix. I have a couple of older dogs and regularly get up in the middle of the night to take them out, so find the integrated red light on the Fenix 7X to be an awesome tool that prevents disturbing others in the house while providing great light that keeps my night vision intact. The bright LED has been very useful for me a few times when trying to find things in the dark, and with my ageing 52-year old eyes, it has also served me well at illuminating restaurant menus.
I also have setup the light to turn on for running, walking, and trail running after sunset. We regularly take family walks after sunset, and it has been awesome to have a LED light shining to light up our path and make sure cars in the neighborhood were aware of us walking. It has also been helpful for lighting up dog waste while walking the dogs at night.
It's not a simple answer to figure out which of these two is the best for you, so think about your specific use cases and needs before making a choice. No matter which watch you choose, I'm convinced you will be satisfied with all that Garmin has done here in early 2022.
Fenix fans have been looking forward to the release of the Fenix 7 series and Garmin delivered with the Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar. Improvements over the Fenix 6 include the useful flashlight, touchscreen display, Garmin Elevate Gen 4 optical heart rate sensor, new sports, slick new capability to setup the watch from your phone, HIIT workouts, 54% greater solar surface area, and much more.
It's been several years since I owned a Fenix watch and I appreciated spending time with the high-quality Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar. I first experienced Garmin's solar capability on my Instinct Solar and thought the ability to keep things topped up and slowly charged with outside light to be useful.
I was very pleased with GPS performance, heart rate performance, crystal clear music playback, long battery life, the vast assortment of sports and activities, and the quality materials. If my eyes were better, then I might choose this watch as my primary wearable, but the brilliant AMOLED of the Garmin Epix is too compelling, and I'm willing to give up considerable battery life for that display.
This review covers my experiences using the Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar for a couple of weeks, but it will take me months to explore the vast number of supported sports and activities of the watch. If you want to read the most in-depth review of the Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar and also view comparison articles of it and the Epix, then I highly recommend you check out Ray Maker's exhaustive review and videos. He has spent a month or two using the Fenix 7X in a variety of geographic areas and through many sports and activities, so has some very valuable input on this new watch.
The Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar is a very expensive watch, and if you are an athlete that participates in a few core sports like running and biking, then something like a Forerunner 945 or Venu 2 Plus likely makes more sense. The Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar is built for multisport athletes who need a reliable watch that provides everything in a single wearable with a battery that only needs charging every couple of weeks.