Garmin fenix 3 Sapphire HR – the latest multisport watch from Garmin with wrist-based heart rate monitoring! The fenix 3 Sapphire HR includes Garmin’s “Elevate” optical heart rate sensor, also used in the Forerunner 235 and the upcoming vivoactive HR and vivofit 3 wearables.

We think that the fenix 3 is one of the most interesting and most successful multisport wearables out there – and now it is getting ever better, at least for some folks relying on wrist-based heart rate monitoring.

In this review we are focusing on the wrist-based heart rate monitor and share our first experiences with our readers. We tested the fenix 3 HR during several activities and found some interesting aspects!

Garmin fenix 3 Sapphire HR – First Impressions – Optical Heart Rate Sensor

Garmin fenix 3 Sapphire HR and HRM-Run sensor (Performer bundle)

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Garmin “Elevate” optical HR sensor

Garmin fenix 3 HR Elevate optical HR sensor

Garmin fenix 3 Saphir HR (left) vs. Garmin fenix 3 (right), different watch interfaces

Garmin fenix 3 Saphir HR (left) vs. Garmin fenix 3 (right), different watch interfaces

Garmin fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3 back

Garmin fenix 3 HR vs. Garmin fenix 3

Garmin fenix 3 HR – resting heart rate (RHR) last four hours

Garmin fenix 3 HR - Resting Heart Rate (RHR) last four hours

Garmin “Elevate” optical heart rate sensor performance

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 1

  • Conditions: Indoor cycling, room temperature, warm up before activity, target heart rate 120 / 130 bpm, some workload at the end.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 138 bpm, max. 173 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 123 bpm. max. 176 bpm
  • Results: fenix 3 HR with some delay at the beginning, may be the blood circulation was restricted; when starting the workload the fenix 3 HR showed some delay; otherwise both devices tracked well.

Enlarge images by clicking!

indoor cycling: fenix 3 HR (magenta) vs. fenix 3 (blue)

heart rate, indoor cycling: fenix 3 HR (magenta) vs. fenix 3 (blue)

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 2

  • Conditions: Outdoor run, temperature slightly above zero, warming up, target heart rate between 110 and 120 bpm.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 116 bpm, max. 128 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 115 bpm. max. 128 bpm
  • Results: Both devices track the heart rate very well, except one fenix 3 HR drop-out.
heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR (magenta) vs. fenix 3 (blue)

heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR (magenta) vs. fenix 3 (blue)

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 3

  • Conditions: Outdoor run, temperature slightly above zero, some warm up.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 127 bpm, max. 154 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 124 bpm. max. 156 bpm
  • reasults: fenix 3 HR with some delay at the beginning, the heart rate did not match all the time (caused by the temperature?).
Herzfrequenzvergleich Outdoor Lauf: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

Herzfrequenzvergleich Outdoor Lauf: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 4

  • Conditions: Running outside, same stretch as before, temperature above zero, warmed up before starting the activity.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 133 bpm, max. 158 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 128 bpm. max. 157 bpm
    3. Foreunner 235: Ø 133 bpm. max. 158 bpm
  • Results: The Forerunner 235 and the fenix 3 & HRM-Run were perfectly matching, fenix 3 HR with some drops/spikes.
heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3 vs. Forerunner 235

heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3 vs. Forerunner 235

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 5

  • Conditions: Outdoor run, same trail as no. 3 and 4, temperature around 15° C.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 117 bpm, max. 142 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 117 bpm. max. 143 bpm
    3. Fitbit Blaze: Ø 116 bpm. max. 140 bpm
  • Results: The fenix 3 HR does it really well, except the peak around 1.5 km. Compared to the other runs, the higher temperature has a enormous positive effect on the blood flow and the heart rate accuracy.
heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

heart rate outdoor run: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 6

  • Conditions: Fast uphill hiking, temperature below zero, windy conditions.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 139 bpm, max. 172 bpm
    2. fenix 3 HR: Ø 76 bpm. max. 124 bpm
  • Results: Garmin fenix 3 HR was completely lost, we guess that the cold conditions had a negative influence on the blood circulation (may be in combination with this kind of activity)
heart rate while hiking: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

heart rate while hiking: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 7

  • Conditions: Hiking in the mountains, Temperatur Ø 13° C.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 128 bpm, max. 164 bpm
    2. fenix 3 Saphir HR: Ø 122 bpm. max. 183 bpm
  • Results: The fenix 3 HR and the fenix 3 do not match all the time, the fenix 3 HR graph has some tough spikes. Why – some speculations: sensor firmware, activity type?
heart rate while hiking: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

heart rate while hiking: fenix 3 HR vs. fenix 3

Some speculations why the heart rate measurement sometimes fails:

  • Activity type
  • Temperature
  • Physical abilities
  • Impaired blood flow in the arms
  • Insufficient warm up before the workout
  • Sensor firmware issues

Garmin fenix 3 HR – questions concerning the optical heart rate measurement

  • Can I use the optical heart rate monitor while swimming? No, you need a separate Garmin HRM-Swim or Garmin HRM-Tri chest strap; the fenix 3 HR sensor is disabled when selecting an activity like pool swim.
  • Do I need a separate chest strap for some running features? Yes, some advanced running dynamics need a chest strap with an integrated accelerometer (HRM-Run, HRM-Tri): avg. vertical ratio, avg. vertical oscillation, avg. ground contact time, avg. ground contact time balance.
  • Do some physiological metrics need a separate chest strap? Yes, analysing stress score and performance condition (only the chest strap provides data for the necessary heart rate variability).

Garmin fenix 3 HR – cold & windy conditions

Garmin fenix 3 HR auf winterlicher Bergtour

Garmin fenix 3 HR – conclusions

Now, after two months, it turned out that the feature rich Garmin fenix 3 HR is our allround wearable for day-to-day use, photography, outdoor (e.g. hiking, mountaineering) and all sport activities, especially running. However, when it comes to sleep tracking, the fenix 3 HR is not our 1st. choice: too heavy and bulky!

For the average recreational exerciser the optical HR is more than adequate (and even gets better with every software update), but for serious activities or contests it is still better to wear a HR strap – so if you need it, get the fenix 3 HR performer bundle!

In our opinion, the fenix 3 HR is the No. 1 in the market for high-end GPS wearables!

Your rating: 1 Stern2 Sterne3 Sterne4 Sterne5 Sterne (166 GPS-Fans, ∅ Score: 82.77 %)


New Beta-Updates promising a better optical heart rate data accuracy and reliability!

fenix 3 HR Software Version 2.92 Beta

29.03.2016
Changes made from version 2.91 to 2.92

  • Added support for saving a waypoint from the Dual Grid page.
  • Improved distance scrolling on the Project Waypoint page.
  • Improved reliability of heart rate data on the Heart Rate graph widget.
  • Improved accuracy of distance and lap counting for Pool Swim in certain situations.
  • Improved accuracy of floors climbed and resting heart rate data.

fenix 3 HR Software Version 2.91 Beta

22 Mrz. 2016
Changes made from version 2.20 to 2.91

  • Added support for Elevation Plot navigation data screen (Settings > Navigation > Data Screens > Elevation Plot). Note: this screen should give a ‘glanceable’ indication of effort remaining along the course being navigated. It shows completed (in green) and future (in blue, if available in the course) altitude data plotted over the distance of the navigation. Ascent fields are also displayed for current accumulation and the amount remaining to destination. Plan your next adventure using the Course creation tool at garminconnect.com!
  • Added support for reviewing elevation history for an activity. (History > Activities > Choose an activity > Elevation Plot. The data field represents total ascent for the activity.)
  • Added support for Auto Lock. (Settings > System > Auto Lock)
  • Added floors climbed history to the steps widget.
  • Added support for configuring Wi-Fi as a Hot Key option. (Settings > System > Hot Keys > Choose a key > Wi-Fi)
  • Added the heading bug to the elevation plot page.
    Added support for previewing backlight intensity as it is modified.
  • Improved the accuracy and reliability of optical heart rate data. (Requires WHR FW 2.17)
  • Improved Bluetooth to phone connection reliability. (Requires BLE/ANT FW 3.34.)
  • Improved accuracy of distance and lap counting for Pool Swim in certain situations.

Garmin fenix 3 HR – Activity 8 – NEW Software 2.91 Beta

First test with Software 2.91 Beta!

  • Conditions: Outdoor run, temperature Ø 19° C.
  • Statistics:
    1. fenix 3 & HRM-Run: Ø 109 bpm, max. 130 bpm
    2. fenix 3 Saphir HR: Ø 110 bpm. max. 129 bpm
  • Results: Very good matching, heart rate variability between the devices in normal range, fenix 3 HR with some delays.
Herzfrequenzvergleich Laufen: fenix 3 (blau) vs. fenix 3 HR

Heart rate comparison outdoor run: fenix 3 (blue) vs. fenix 3 HR

Garmin fenix 3 Sapphire HR hands-on review was last modified: June 2nd, 2016 by Joachim Bardua

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