The 5 Garmin Specialists
Garmin have produced 5 serious watches, in 5 differing specialist areas and have produced a line of inter-related instruments aimed at those who take these activities seriously.
These are not your every day $250 smartwatch, they are very specialised, seriously advanced pieces of machinery, calibrated in minute detail towards specific sports. But they are very, very sexy too.
If these high ticket prices are beyond your means (and let’s face it that includes most of us), then many of the features in this line are available throughout the Garmin ranges. I would highly recommend that you take a look at my post ‘Untangle the Garmin knot.’
Be warned though, they come with a very serious price tag.
At this point, and for those of us that only recognise Garmin, as the well-known manufacturer of really quite good smartwatches and fitness trackers, we probably need a reality check.
Garmin, (originally known as ProNav) was originally a GPS specialist operating mainly within the defence, aerospace and high end, high speed, professional automotive industries. Thus the ease with which they have integrated into the commercial fitness market, they already had the technology pre-developed as part of their historical business.
For several years the company sold-on it’s technology to 3rd-party (mainly high-end) watch manufacturers such as Techniques d’Avant Garde, or as we better know them TAG Heuer, and Hublot, to name just a couple. These iconic brands then obviously produced desirable premium bodies and marketed them as ultra-high ticket products.
Early in 2017, Garmin made several quantum leaps in GPS technology that enabled them to be able to offer massive advances to the personal tracking market. Initially once again, it was planned to offer this technology to 3rd party producers. Indeed a couple of very high ticket watches currently available are powered with some of the latest Garmin tech.
Then suddenly, at the very beginning of 2018, somebody at Garmin, seems to have had a ‘light-bulb’ moment and all external collaboration just stopped.
In collaboration with some of the Swiss, watchmakers that the company already had ties, five high quality bodies, modelled for very specific sports were designed, and almost overnight the Marq series was born.
Before you let the price tag of around $2500, put you off, shaking your head in disbelief, think on. If watches even closely as advanced as these were to be offered to you from either Breitling, TAG Heuer, or Hublot, you wouldn’t even blink if the asking price was 4-5-6 >> thousand dollars. And to be totally honest, they haven’t got technology even close to this in their watches, so please, read on.
The actual price
MARQ Athlete – $1500: As the name implies, athletes
MARQ Expedition – $1750: A blend of athlete + multi-day sport adventures
MARQ Captain – $1850: For boating/marine related adventures
MARQ Aviator – $1950: For aviation folks piloting an aircraft
MARQ Driver – $2500: Automotive racing focused
So What Happened to Value?
A few years ago Garmin introduced (to much initial head shaking) the $1500 Chronos. The reaction to the watch, even allowing for it’s beauty and technological prowess,was from every sane person (myself included) was, ‘ Why would you invest that much money on a watch that included technology that would require you to have to reinvest in 3-4 years, due to it being obsolete?’
Until you grasp the fact that as far as technology is concerned, the mindset of keeping up with the Jones’s is about as relevant as a slice of sponge cake in a crisp wrapper. It just doesn’t come to that. For the current trend in technology (even watches), you have to have a change of mindset. No matter what price-point you enter the market, in 3 – 4 years you are going to have to renew.
You have to learn the same mindset that we seem to have had no problem learning in regard to things such as DSLRs, which command similar, if not even higher monetary commitment, after 3 – 4 years technological advance urges us to re-commit.
No matter what the price, every piece of personal technology represents a compromise. Either in quality, reliability or accuracy. There is nothing at all wrong with the cheapest $20 fitness tracker it is just that one of, or even all of the above criteria will represent a higher level of compromise than one costing $400. And so on until you get to the high-end instruments where cutting edge, comes with fewer compromises in any of the departments.
The 5 Big Brothers
Once you have arrived at the point that this Garmin range just represents extreme high quality in every aspect of their design and production, and thus they are priced accordingly, you can take a much closer look at the 5 beautiful models on offer.
When you do so, the progression of the Chronos, idea is obvious. Rather than trying to produce 1 watch to try to be specialist in several areas, 1 concept has been applied across 5 specialities and 5 very identifiable watches have been born, that each have a little brother (or sister) already available in the Garmin range.
For example the Athlete and Expedition, both clearly have their roots in the Fenix 5 plus series, and the Aviator is obviously derived from the D2.
What Holds the Family Together
As already mentioned the Marq, is a direct progression of the Chronos, and shares an identical design brief. The very best materials, the highest quality build and cutting edge state of the art components and software. The only separation from that brief is to develop a family of dedicated specialised watches. In the main the component list is identicl, this is what makes all of these amazing watches tick;
Each the five different watches targets a corresponding audience, as follows (EUR pricing matches USD pricing):
All watches include the same baseline, which is essentially the features of the Fenix 5 Plus series watches, with some twists. So that includes:
– Detailed maps for the region you bought it in (e.g. North America)
– Offline music playback/storage, including Spotify support
– Garmin Pay contactless payment support (load credit cards/etc onto it)
– PulseOx SpO2 measurement
– Swim/Bike/Run/Golf/Ski, and numerous other sports all included
– Full global database of ski resort runs/maps included
– Full global database of golf courses included
– Revamped user interface for the MARQ lineup
– Revamped Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor (officially ‘Gen3’)
– All watches have incident detection and safety alert features (similar to Vivoactive 3 Music LTE, except without the LTE)
As for common hardware shared within the family, included, but not restricted to, are; – Smaller 46mm size (so basically same as the Fenix 5/Plus, not the S or X models)
– Battery life: 12 days in watch mode, 28hrs GPS-on, 48hrs UltraTrac GPS
– Ceramic Bezel: For the Aviator, Captain, and Driver editions
– New charging cable: Like a blend between the Fenix 5 cables and the Forerunner 645 cables
To back up the commitment to including the highest spec technology have opted for a couple of interesting upgrades;
1) They’ve switched to the Sony GPS chipsets
2) They’ve increased the storage up to 32GB – a huge upgrade over the typical 8-16GB Garmin has used in other units
The first is a massive shift for Garmin, and a marked change in direction from their usual Media Tek GPS chipset. Sony, although very much a newcomer had been making a huge impact on the market and quickly became the chip of choice for Polar, Suunto and COROS. who all found the sector leading power consumption of the Sony, irresistible.
Little surprise then that Garmin, would follow the lead of such esteemed manufacturers. Except that all of the previous recipients of the chips had already reported difficulties with the GPS accuracy of the Sony unit. Indeed Polar, and Suunto, both still document difficulties despite frantic input from Sony. Garmin, however say that they have resolved some minor accuracy details themselves.
The massive leap in storage space is a little more confusing, although could possibly be partially explained in the one weak point that seems evident in this release package. The extra space could be to facilitate the ability to store far more maps than initially provided on the watch. You see Garmin have for some reason only pre-loaded local region maps! Thus leaving the customer to be forced into downloading world-wide maps if needed from a third-party. Why Garmin, have chosen this route is something of a mystery and what seems like a very disappointing oversight.
Or do I smell the distinct aroma of an imminent software update?
The striving for excellence is so thorough that it makes itself evident right the way through the launch blurb in descriptions of intricacy repeated over again, and again. Such as the numerous times that Garmin remark at how they struggled to find a ceramic that would offer enough scratch resistance for the bezel.
Meet the Family
Feature wise, Athlete is about as close as this family gets to being Fenix 5 Plus, on steroids.
– They’ve improved the race predictor
– They’ve tweaked the daily training load metrics
– There are some unannounced fitness-features Garmin says will arrive in the coming months it’ll support
All of this is delivered on the back of the now familiar Firebrand, making the watch something of an old friend to navigate around. The improvements here are initially subtle although the whole experience is much slicker, and far more logical than before.
This feels in almost every aspect, a large step forward from it’s Fenix cousin. Then there is the one let down. Athlete only comes with a silicon strap (no options), which feels a tiny bit miserly of Garmin.
I almost started this section also stating that the Expedition is also very like the Fenix 5 plus, but that would be under-selling it massively. In looks, I guess that it is, but they have paired down the sports features for the Expedition and added a couple of really clever twists.
– Expedition App: This allows you to do 4 continuous weeks of GPS track at 1-hr intervals
– Orienting lock: Allows you to lock a heading from within the map view by holding the start button
The first is a long way from being as gimmicky as it probably should have been, and is a whole new level of fascinating when reviewing the data. Garmin should be singled out for a heavy dose of praise for the slickness and compatibility they have managed to tie into the front-end watch data and the back-end review software. It is ultra impressive.
The simple, effective and reliable orienting lock is also a revelation on past attempts.
The added bonus with this variant is that it actually comes with a decent strap. Fashioned in Italian Vacchetta leather, it is possibly the best strap in the line-up.
Short of a visual costume design, the Aviator, is this family’s least altered watch from it’s predecessor, the Garmin D2 PX Delta. No real great surprise there as the Delta only debuted last July. Obviously (maybe) the Aviator is concentrated toward piloting an aircraft. Fittingly the firmware is also pointed in that direction. The Flight Stream 510 interface is very accurately integrated with Garmin’s flight management systems and is pre-loaded with aviation maps and airport database which has been updated for this edition.
Historically I am a big fan of the aviator watch in it’s many guises. But I have to say this edition is absolutely cram-packed with so much cool stuff, (far too much to put together here) My particular favourite is the NEXRAD weather radar which is awesome.
The predecessor for this watch is the very highly rated Quatix 5, and like it’s older brother the Captain inherits many of the functionality of the Fenix 5. You are presented with stocks that you have become very familiar with, such as music and contactless payment.
I have had the chance to have a bit of a play with the Captain, and to be honest I am a bit blown away by it. The main point of this unit is the ability to take control of your boat from your wrist, through connecting with the Garmin GHC 20, through which you can control the autopilot. It also sports a load of hotkey support which enables access to things such as anchor alarms, tack assist, man overboard plotting and automatic navigation.
Other notable inclusions here are;
– Current weather watch face, including at specified home port
– Regatta Timer with GPS and dedicated bezel markings using start/stop hotkey
The Captain is finished off with a Jacquard Weave strap in deepest blue, and I love it.
As far as I can tell, this watch has no peers. There is certainly no Garmin, parenthood with which to compare. I also can’t find any comparable smartwatch from any manufacturer to measure the Driver against. There may be one or two chronographs that claim to be driver watches, but there really is nothing against which to compare this, it genuinely is a breakthrough concept, so all that I can really do hear is to highlight (some) of the features available on this groundbreaking concept.
– 260+ pre-loaded race tracks (see the full list here)
– Race App
– Track Timer
– Live Delta Time
– Auto Lap Splits based on position
– Lap Time Repeat-ability Score (LTR)
– Last Race Summary
– Virtual Pit Wall
Unfortunately, the tester unit that I was forwarded came only in a jiffy-bag, and was not accompanied with an instruction manual, so the above is (I would presume) not an exhaustive list of the watches capabilities, merely the ones that my tinkering managed to locate. Due to the specialist accent of the features that I found, I didn’t really get to test any of them.
I couldn’t possibly complete an article on this series of watches without referring to the price tag associated with them (who could?). I honestly thought that this review would consist of taking each of the watches, listing the features and then recommending a more cost effective alternative.
The highest compliment that I can pay Garmin, is that it didn’t work out that way, not even for a single model in the line-up. Let’s be honest here there are no bargains to be had here, not at this price range. Conversely their is no rip-off to be seen either. Every one of these watches, in the round, and by virtue of each one, at the very least being a high end item. Some are even groundbreaking, and as such each model justifies it’s price-tag.
As the test models started landing at my door (they came individually), I resisted opening any of them until I was sure that I had all of the watches. The last to arrive was the Drive, loose in a Jiffy-bag, that’s why it was the last to actually be reviewed. Although I did keep going back to it, as my familiarity of the other watches grew, and I would have a fiddle around to see what other functions I could find.
Eventually though, time ran out and I started getting the requests to move the watches on, and so one-by-one I had to wave goodbye to them. Well nearly all of them, despite several requests to move the captain, on I cling to it like a limpid to a rock. I love it, but even now I accept that Garmin are not likely to let me hold on to it for much longer.
So where can I get one?
For reason known only to themselves, Garmin, has stocked all of the models for the Marq series into major, high end jewellers. With I presume the intention of displaying them next to Breitling, & Tag brands in direct oposition, which seems a little bits trange as neither Breitling, nor, Tag, have a history of trying to compete within the smartwatch market. The brand has no plans to release this product into either High Street jewellers or sports companies.
When I am faced with this problem, I usually turn to Jura watches. I have contacted them, and they do currently have all models in, and generally it only takes them a couple of days to fulfil any watch order.
<<<<<You can find Jura here>>>>>
So What do you Think?
Have Garmin got this right or wrong? Are these kind of prices justifiable? Has the Smartwatch just shape-shifted again into the Tool Watch?
Let me know in the comments below
I would love to know what you think about the watch range in this article specifically, or even what you think of the Smartwatch market generally. Please leave you comments in the section below.
Cheers for now