Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Gear Friday: Luxury smartwatch stands out

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The Garmin Fenix Chronos smartwatch looks like a Swiss designer watch, but is it worth the big price tag?
The Garmin Fenix Chronos smartwatch looks like a Swiss designer watch, but is it worth the big price tag?

One way to stand out in the crowded smartwatch and activity tracker market is to hit the high end and produce a luxury device: this is what Garmin's done, with the Fenix Chronos.

Depending on if you specify a leather or a stainless steel band, the Fenix Chronos will set you back $1,699 and $1,849 respectively. A titanium housing and strap model costs $2,499, which is $400 more than the 42mm Apple Watch Series 2 with a ceramic case.

That money buys you a big bold and very nice looking smartwatch with lots of features, and the ability to track almost any activity imaginable - and it comes in a luxo wooden box.

There's a wrist heart rate monitor, global positioning system (GPS) and GLONASS location finders, altimeter, barometer, and compass inside the Fenix Chronos.

Garmin put a 1.2-inch Chroma Display with LED backlight on the Fenix Chronos, with scratch resistant sapphire glass cover it. You can read the display outdoors, but it is dimmer than the bright screen on the Apple Watch S2.

It's also not a touch screen. Instead you drive the Fenix Chronos with five push buttons on the side of the watch. This works well in the wet, and while out and about, but it takes a while to memorise which button does what of course.

The first Fenix Chronos sent to me refused to pair over Bluetooth, even though my iPhone and Android phone could both see the watch. No amount of troubleshooting could make the watch talk to either phone, but the replacement Fenix Chronos Garmin provided connected without a hitch. Bluetooth is great when it works; when it doesn't, the wireless protocol can be a bear to sort out and it's not Garmin's fault.

Even though the Fenix Chronos is the biggest watch I've ever worn, it's comfortable enough on the wrist. I would get the watch with another, more durable strap than the thick leather one the second Fenix Chronos arrived with - this is an activity tracker that supports almost any sweaty or watery sport there is after all.

Waterproofing down to 100 metres is the likely reason why Garmin used a crocodile clamp-style charger and data connector for the Fenix Chronos and not a USB port. The clamp works but is quite ugly compared to the rest of the premium watch. What's more, if you lose the croc-jaw cable, you can't use a USB lead for instance to charge the Fenix Chronos.

Garmin has a large app ecosystem - the Connect IQ store - and the Fenix Chronos can also display email, text, social media and other notifications. I turned those off because what's the point of receiving notifications that you can't respond to on the Fenix Chronos itself?

The iOS and macOS Garmin Connect and Express apps I used with the Fenix Chronos are pretty good and comprehensive.

The iOS smartphone app could be cleaner and easier to use though, as it's easy to get lost in the plethora of features it provides.

Battery life is pretty good; I charged the Fenix Chronos twice or three times a week depending on how much I used it. Not having to take it off at night to charge means you can keep track of sleep patterns, which is great. The GPS tracking feature though reduces battery life to 13 hours.

That's probably the biggest problem with the Fenix Chronos: you can get the cheaper Garmin Fenix 3 HR which lasts longer (25 hours on GPS), and has Wi-Fi for data connection to install apps and copy exercise records.

The Fenix Chronos has a faster processor and more memory, and a 64 versus 16 colour screen; it also supports all the newer Connect IQ 2 apps, something that the Fenix 3 HR apparently doesn't do.

Despite that, I'd say the Fenix 3 HR is a more sensible proposition than the Fenix Chronos.

The Fenix Chronos looks great, like a Swiss designer watch, but the price is very steep for what you get.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

Read more by Juha Saarinen

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