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Serious about fitness? This Garmin is a near-perfect sports watch

Garmin achieves near perfection with the Epix Pro and its AMOLED display, LED flashlight, flawless construction, and extensive ecosystem.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
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Ready to run with the 47mm Garmin Epix Pro.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Smartwatches have long-enjoyed AMOLED displays -- and now sports watches are getting in on the action, too.

Garmin has offered an AMOLED display on its mid-range Venu watch since 2019, but fans of the Forerunner and Fenix series weren't willing to compromise features for the display alone. In 2022, Garmin offered the Epix (2nd Gen) model as its first high-end watch with AMOLED, and it was very popular.

Also: How tough is the Apple Watch Ultra? I stress-tested it for 9 months

For the past couple of weeks, I've been running, swimming, biking, walking, sleeping, and living with the Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2). Garmin also offers AMOLED on its new Forerunner 965 and 265 devices, so there is now a range of watches with a display that rivals popular smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch.

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While the brilliant AMOLED display is certainly one of the key features of the Garmin Epix Pro, the company also significantly expanded the options and additional features in this year's model. The 2022 Epix (2nd Gen) was available in a single 47mm size (Standard and Sapphire), and this year's model is available in larger (51mm) and smaller (42mm) sizes, along with Standard and Sapphire glass options, so the model will appeal to a broader range of active users. Prices range from $899.99 to $1,099.99.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Another key feature included on the Epix Pro watch, which I have used daily on the Enduro 2, is the integrated LED flashlight. After using this for many months on the Enduro 2, I will not buy another GPS sports watch without a flashlight. I am very pleased to see Garmin continue to integrate this feature in new devices, including the Epix Pro, Fenix 7X Pro, and Instinct 2X Solar. The flashlight shines in red or white with strobe mode.

The red color LED flashlight is perfect for helping you maintain your vision in the dark. With the Epix Pro, there's also a red shift mode, which changes the brilliant display colors into shades of red, so your watch face doesn't interrupt your sleep or ability to see in low-light conditions. 

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

One of the major benefits of an AMOLED display -- beyond the brightness and rich colors -- is the ability for detailed maps to provide more useful information. Weather map overlays help you view upcoming conditions, and relief shading on topographic maps provides quick information on the terrain you're covering.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The typical Garmin five-button navigation system, along with a touchscreen, is present for maneuvering through the vast number of options, settings, and features of the watch. I've been testing the mid-size 47mm model with a sapphire glass display. With the always-on display option enabled, I can get about six days of battery life, and 14 days with the always-on display turned off. With all satellites, multi-band, and music playing, then you can expect about 10 hours of activity tracking -- and that's a worst-case scenario.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNET

When Garmin releases new watches, we often see some new features released -- and that's the case this time as well. Thankfully, we also see Garmin doing a fantastic job at keeping previous devices updated, so check for updates on your current Garmin as it might have these new metrics. 

Since I live on a hill, and every single one of my running sessions includes a hill, I'm excited about a metric focused on tracking my uphill running performance. Hill scores range from 0-100, with higher scores helping you advance from recreational to elite level. Hills with a grade of more than 2% are automatically detected and analyzed.

Also: My 5 must-have gadgets for off-grid adventures

Another new metric found in the Garmin Epix Pro is the Endurance score. VO2 Max is a common measure of aerobic fitness and the Garmin Endurance score starts with that metric. Garmin then analyzes and interprets your activity history from an endurance perspective -- and, as you would expect, endurance takes time to build and account for on your Garmin watch.

ZDNET's buying advice

Results from the Garmin Epix Pro were near perfect with accurate GPS tracking, near flawless heart-rate tracking, more health and fitness metrics than you could ever practically use, a powerful and elegant smartphone application, and a vast ecosystem to help you train and improve your performance and lifestyle. 

I would likely consider this watch perfect with integrated cellular for phone-free safety tracking (like the Garmin 945 LTE), but since I usually pack a phone too, I'll go ahead and say this is the perfect watch for serious athletes. 

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