Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Smartwatch Review

The Garmin Fenix 6S smartwatch is the first watch I’ve worn since the Moto 360. It’s hailed as the ultimate sports and adventure watch and includes maps and onboard music storage. I was skeptical about wearing a watch at all, but wanted the fitness tracking features of an activity tracker in an attractive package I could wear everywhere. This isn’t a short-sighted review: I’ve been wearing the watch for almost six months at the time of this writing. Timing is one factor that lead me to Garmin, since the Fenix 6S made one minor change over the Fenix 5 series that makes a big difference to me: the lug-to-lug distance.

Size on my tiny wrist

Previous ladies Garmin watches were a little longer from lug-to-lug, so even though the screen’s the same size (42mm), the Fenix 6S fits a smaller wrist like mine. I like how easy it is to change to different bands, especially because I can’t stand the sticky feeling of the included silicone one. I picked up two different replacement bands:

Daily stats at a glance

It’s super convenient to be able to check the weather from my wrist, and I’ll admit I’m checking the date frequently as well. Depending on the watch face, you can see the time, date and day of the week, altitude, barometric pressure, heart rate, battery life, weather, steps counter, floors climbed, notification counter, sunset/sunrise times, and a bunch of other data about your activity throughout the day.

Exercise activity tracking

The Garmin Fenix 6S has special tracking features for almost any type of workout you can imagine. I use this feature for long walks or bike rides, and at the end I’ll get a map of my journey as well as stats about the workout. I did try the yoga tracker once or twice, but it seems to want you to press a button for every pose, which seems fiddly to me and definitely does not go with my yoga flow.

This watch also has maps!

Heart rate monitoring

I enabled the always-on heartrate monitor on my Garmin to track my heartrate all day and all night. I like being able to glance at my heartrate when I’m getting exercise or during the occasional bout of anxiety. It helps to rationalize the physical sensation of a racing heart and also reminds me to get more exercise.

Since my wrists are super small, I can see the red light of the heart rate monitor flashing from beneath the watch face.

Notifications

Notifications on Garmin have one big downside that is a pet peeve of mine: each app’s notifications are on by default, and have to be turned off one by one. That means when I download a new app, I have to be sure to go into my Garmin settings and disable that app’s notifications, or my wrist will be buzzing with push alerts from non-essential places. This is part of a broader epidemic of notifications, but it’s a particularly egregious example if you ask me. Notifications don’t show photos, so if you’re texting and a picture comes through, you’ll still have to dig out your phone to see what it is.

Find my phone

I use this feature super often. Click a button on the watch, and if your phone is connected it will start to ring and flash its flashlight. As a frequent phone-misplacer, I love how much time this saves me.

Contactless Payment

Part of setup was to configure contactless payment methods. You need to enter a PIN once per day to use, which is thankfully pretty secure, but mildly inconvenient at the checkout if you haven’t thought ahead.

One cool thing about contactless payment is that it’s linked to your bank/credit account, not the card itself, so if I lose my wallet, I can still use my watch to pay for things while I get new cards in the mail. This is great peace of mind, especially for traveling.

Setup and App

It took about 20 minutes to set up all the main features of the watch, including pairing the bluetooth, setting up the wifi, entering in my biometric profile, contactless payment options, syncing my Strava account, and configuring symptoms to track in the menstrual cycle app.

I’m not thrilled with the limited default options available for the watch face, and the attractive ones available to download made by others tend to omit the data fields that I find so useful. I’ve settled on the Infocal watch face, showing time, steps, heart rate, date, altitude, current temperature, and battery life.

Sapphire crystal

I did shell out the extra cash for the sapphire glass version, to protect against scratches much better than the Gorilla glass version. I sleep near a brick wall, so I’m extra likely to scuff my watch against the brick on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. So far so good, no scratches so far.


This review isn’t comprehensive of the features included with the Garmin Fenix 6 series, but here are some that are:

What's In My Bag

The “What’s in my bag” newsletter was kind enough to ask me to participate in their series highlighting bags and their contents. Read my submission here or in their online edition.

About the bag

The Fraction backpack by Mission Workshop

I love this backpack. It’s waterproof, which is great for city commuting by any method, and it holds a lot of stuff, but can take on a smaller profile when it’s mostly empty. I bought mine in 2015 and use it for everything from day-to-day laptop toting to overnight trips, and I even sometimes use the top flap to strap something big and awkward to it, like a bag of plush stuffing.

What’s inside the bag

Wet Ones antibacterial wipes

I keep a pack of these antibacterial wipes in just about every bag I have. They’re great for wiping away germs after using the subway railings, or for sanitizing your airplane tray table. I also use them to disinfect my phone.

Paracord zipper pull

You never know when you’re going to need a small bit of strong cord! I made a tutorial for these paracord zipper pulls a few years ago and attached one to every jacket and bag. Not only are they effective as zipper pulls, they can be untied to become a useful length of strong cord.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP 8-Watt ham radio

I recently got my ham radio license, but without an antenna on the roof, I’ve got to be outdoors (preferably up high) to make contact with other hams. This 8-Watt radio is ubiquitous in the ham community because it’s small, affordable, easy to program. I did upgrade the antenna to get better performance.

Bi-fold small parts organizer

When I teach electronics prototyping to design grad students at SVA, it’s useful to have some small parts on hand to demonstrate with and lend to my students. I love this double-sided parts organizer for transporting small things like switches, sensors, LEDs, and small microcontroller boards.

(more…)

Pavlok Teardown

Welcome to the new teardown series on my channel, where I take apart gadgets and share what I find inside. First up is the Pavlok, a shocking wearable designed to help you break bad habits.

The Pavlok comes with the main device itself, as well as two silicone wristbands.

The Pavlok pairs over bluetooth with your phone to control the settings through an app, which is also designed to keep you motivated to use the device in the most effective way possible. You can deliver an electric shock to yourself via the app or by pressing the top of the device. It also can supposedly detect when you move your hand to your mouth, say during smoking or nail biting, which are two of the habits its designed to help break.

To take it apart, I started cutting the plastic around the little metal nubs. The tricky thing about taking this thing apart, at least before the battery’s died, is that it is easy to shock yourself while holding it in place. It’s so small that one of the only flat surfaces by which to grip it is also the activation button. So I had to use the phone to make sure it was on a low setting, and try to avoid pinching it while cracking open the plastic.

The electrodes are also the case, which makes for a straightforward three-piece case. I was also able to put it back together again, which is a rare occurrence in one of my teardowns.

My friend David Cranor, an electrical engineer, came over to help examine the circuit and research the parts we could identify.

Here’s a list of tools we used:

Read on to discover the components we found…

(more…)

Rode Procaster Microphone Setup for Voiceover Recording

It’s time for a change.

For the last decade, the microphone I used for voiceovers was the Zoom H4N, connected to my computer as a USB audio device. It’s been great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m ready to go to the next level with my voiceover recording, so it was time to get a professional quality microphone and the right accessories to bring out its best.

I picked out the Rode Procaster dynamic microphone because in my research, it would be good for female voiceover recording (me) in places with background noise (pretty much everywhere in NYC). Since I just got it I can’t pass judgement on those factors yet and don’t have its competitors to compare it to, so this isn’t a review– the proof will be heard in my YouTube channel’s voiceover quality, so you be the judge!

Here’s a list of all the bells and whistles that go with a microphone like this, in case you’re looking to create a similar setup yourself. Amazon carries a bundle of mic, arm, and shock mount.

But that’s not all that’s needed to make this mic work for home recording into a computer…

(more…)