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How does Garmin's Apple Watch Ultra competitor stack up? I tested both to find out

Garmin gives its popular Fenix 7 line of smartwatches a Pro upgrade. Here's how it fares against Apple's best.
Garmin Fenix 7X Pro

Garmin Fenix 7X Pro

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Mention smartwatches and most people will instantly think of the Apple Watch. But there are many more smartwatches out there, and one of the biggest names in that arena is Garmin.

Earlier this month I took a look at the Garmin Fenix 7X Solar Sapphire, pitting it head-to-head against the Apple Watch Ultra. And the Fenix 7X gave Apple's flagship smartwatch a real run for its money.

Also: The best smartwatches: Find out which models fitness experts recommend

Now Garmin has refreshed the Fenix line, releasing the Fenix 7 Pro

Garmin Fenix 7 Pro


Garmin Fenix 7 Pro

When it comes to multisport GPS smartwatches, the Fenix 7 Pro lineup offers the ultimate feature set, combining rugged design, solar charging, heart rate and pulse ox monitoring, and battery life that's measured in weeks and not days.

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The Fenix 7 Pro line consists of two models: the Pro Solar and Pro Sapphire Solar, each offered in three sizes: 42mm Fenix 7S, 47mm Fenix 7, and 51mm Fenix 7X.

The sizes are pretty easy to understand -- think small, medium, and large -- and they're available in two crystal options: glass and sapphire.

The Fenix 7S and 7 are also offered in silver alongside the matte black DLC (diamond-like coating), and there are a smattering of different band colors, too.

The Garmin Fenix 7X Pro is big and chunky.

The Garmin Fenix 7X Pro is big and chunky.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

While six different offerings might seem awfully complicated, it's a lot simpler than before. Now all the models come with solar charging, all come with a built-in white/red LED flashlight, and all have 32GB of storage. 

Also: Best Garmin watches: Fenix, Forerunner, Venu, and more

Apart from physical size (and corresponding battery life), all the Fenix 7 Pro versions have the same array of features. 

Note: The review unit I have for testing is the Fenix 7X Pro.

Fenix 7X Pro tech specs

  • 42mm (1.2-inch display), 47mm (1.3-inch display), and 51mm (1.4-inch display) size options
  • Solar charging allows for up to 14 days (Fenix 7S), 22 days (Fenix 7), and 37 days (Fenix 7X) battery life
  • Sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) touchscreen display
  • Glass crystal, fiber-reinforced polymer case with a steel bezel and rear cover
  • Built-in white/red LED flashlight with variable intensities and strobe modes
  • Multi-band GPS with SatIQ technology
  • 24/7 health and wellness monitoring with advanced sleep tracking, HRV status, Pulse Ox, and more
  • 10 atmospheres waterproofing
  • 32GB storage
  • Garmin proprietary charging cable 

Also: My 5 off-grid essentials: How to work from virtually anywhere

In the run-up to this review, I'd been wearing the Fenix 7X for a few weeks. And when I switched to the Fenix 7X Pro, there were a few things I noticed straight away.

The Fenix 7X has quite a presence on the wrist.

The Fenix 7X has quite a presence on the wrist.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

First, the heart rate/pulse ox sensor is an updated module. It's a bigger unit, spacing out the LEDs that take the readings; the update's goal is to offer more accurate readings under conditions where the wrist is being bent and flexed. I never had much of a problem with the previous heart rate/pulse ox monitor, but I do find that this suffers fewer dropouts, both at night and when hiking with walking poles.

Updated heart rate and pulse ox module

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Another thing I noticed right away is that the display on the Fenix 7X Pro has more pop than that of the Fenix 7. The display is crisper and clearer, and the colors are brighter. 

It's hard to quantify, but the display just feels better on the eyes.

Also: I tested this tiny satellite communicator on an off-grid adventure. Here's my verdict

The white/red LED flashlight has also been updated and is both brighter and offers a more focused beam of light to pierce the darkness (and is now offered on all the models).

The cool white/red LED flashlight on the Fenix 7 Pro is a far more focused light than the "make the display bright" flashlight that most smartwatches have.

The cool white/red LED flashlight on the Fenix 7 Pro is a far more focused light than the "make the display bright" flashlight that most smartwatches have.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I've only been testing the Fenix 7 Pro for about a week, but I can already tell that this is a winner. It builds intelligently on the Fenix 7 platform, streamlining the lineup in such a way that buyers only need to think about the size of the watch (or, put another way, price).

Fenix 7X owners can probably ignore this upgrade as they have most of what this model offers. And those who went for the Fenix 7S or Fenix 7 and feel they are missing out on solar charging or a flashlight, well, now those features are available. But those who'll benefit most from this update are the users of earlier Garmin models -- or those coming from another smartwatch brand-- even the Apple Watch

Also: The best Apple Watch deals: Compare the lowest prices of the Series 8, SE, and more

As a long-time Apple Watch owner, the Fenix 7X Pro's big display -- dwarfing even that of the Apple Watch Ultra -- and the weeks of battery life are the things that I appreciate most about this smartwatch. The use of buttons rather than the heavy reliance on a touchscreen is also super handy, making this much easier to operate in wet weather. And the built-in maps mean that I can go totally off-grid and still know where I am, wherever I happen to end up.

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